“ It’s quite possible to spend many, many years in Thailand, and then leave its shores without having made one true Thai friend”.
I forget where I actually first saw that quotation, but it is inspired genius, and I agree with it 100%.
Thais are strange people – their values, their needs, their outlook on life. There are many Thai traits which the farang find irritating, but often can’t really explain why. Of course, there are good and bad points to every nationality, and Thais are certainly a very helpful people. For example, you can always rely on a Thai to give up his Sunday off to help you move apartment, or drive you to the airport. They are in general a fun-loving lot, who enjoy a joke as long as it’s not aimed at them. There are however times to have fun, and there are times when a little more decorum and seriousness are perhaps required, in the workplace for instance.
I consider the Thais greatest characteristic to be that of tolerance. Often we foreigners come over here and strut around as though we own the place. We gamble, screw, and get pissed, and they tolerate it and just smile. There aren’t that many countries where this would happen.
What about the negative or less appealing sides of their character ? One of my few Thai friends is a great sociologist and in his words the biggest problem with the Thais is that they don’t walk fast enough. Sounds silly doesn’t it, but you just observe the Thais when they are going to work or even coming back home in the evening. Many of them adopt a sort of slow shuffle that seems to send a message to the world ‘I don’t really care about myself as a person, and I don’t really care about where I’m going”. To continue quoting the sociologist “Thais need to throw back their shoulders, stand up straight, and move 25% quicker”
I think the main gripe that foreigners have is that Thais can be extremely unreliable and unpunctual. I’ve lost count of the number of hours that I’ve spent waiting for people to turn up for appointments. I have a colleague who simply refuses to have Thai friends because he’s been let down once too often.
Thais are generally quite materialistic, yet on the other hand, their daily needs are few. As long as they have somewhere to sleep, food in their belly, and a TV to watch or a comic book to read, it seems like the vast majority of them are extremely happy.
My own personal whinge, and one that I must admit is changing a little, is that Thais rarely or never complain because supposedly it ‘spoils the social harmony’. They need to start complaining a lot more, because there are many businesses large and small, who are taking advantage of this gentle nature, and giving their customers a disgracefully bad service. If I could wish Thais to try and change in one solitary way, then this would be it.
The Thai people do certainly have a sense of humor, but sarcasm is an absolute no-no, whether it is intended to be a leg-pull or not. In England for example, if a friend has obviously had a haircut, we might say something like ‘did the Red Indians get you?”. And everyone will have a good laugh and no one will be offended. A Thai will often be deeply hurt by that kind of comment, and smile out of embarrassment more than anything else. The Thai sense of humor is rather more slapstick than subtlety. The act of a man slipping on a banana skin in the street will have a Thai in veritable fits of laughter.
Supposedly Buddhists do believe in re-incarnation, but when I ask my students if they believe in life after death, 90% don’t really know, so we can assume that many of them think that this is their only chance. And yet too many of them are just ‘aimlessly shuffling’ through life with very little ambition or direction, and happy with just the basic creature comforts. It’s like they are only ‘half-alive’, and they don’t value life on this wonderful planet enough. I always find that very, very sad indeed.
Q: What's your view of Thais?
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