September 18 2012 Categories: Understanding Thailand No comments yet
What is “Thainess”
In a nutshell “Thainess” is a concept that provides the foundation for social harmony and the respect of order in a patriarchal, hierarchical society where people display cool heads, warm hearts, gratitude and public deference.
“Thainess” has a lot of by-products that we will discuss from time to time in this blog.
‘Thainess’ is one of these concepts that can never be truly explained or understood without actually living and experiencing it. You can learn Thai language but you cannot learn ‘Thainess’, it is instinctive.
Foreigners in Thailand can be divided into two categories, those that have it and those that will never have it. You don’t necessarily need to have it to do business in Thailand but it helps (less frustration if you have it).
Should I Wai or should I not?
The Wai is not, contrary to what a lot of foreigners believe, solely a traditional form of salutation. There is far more to it.
Always remember that Thailand is a hierarchical society and so one is supposed to publicly show respect to social superiors or elders. The wai is the way to do it.Wais are also used for prayers.
New comers are easy to recognize, they want to fit in so much that they are Wai-ing everyone all the time.
You should Wai only elders you are introduced to (even if their social status in inferior to yours), people that give you assistance (I mean real assistance and not serving you dinner or selling you a bag), or person in a managing position with whom you need to do business.
For everyone else, don’t shake hands with them, a polite movement of the head will be sufficient.
Now, how to Wai? There are several web-sites that describe how to Wai or just observe Thai people around you.
Whilst a Wai is supposedly a mark of respect, you can actually send mixed signals depending how you enact it so be careful.
What do Thai people respect the most?
Like in every culture money and power are respected. But the concept of new and old money is also known in Thailand.
Don’t expect to be admitted into Thai High Society just by flashing your money. They might do business with you, even invite you to social dinners but you will have to work very hard to be admitted in their circle.
Surprisingly, Thai people respect knowledge even more than they respect money. If you are a Doctor (medicine or PHD) or a Professor don’t be shy about it. Teachers have actually a social status which is far above the social status of teachers in so called developed countries.
Thai people love to learn and to improve themselves. They read a lot, and it is not rare to see young Thai people spending their afternoon sitting between the shells of a bookshop with a book in hand. For example, my girlfriend buys at least one book per week. While I buy novels for fun and distraction she only buys books that teach her something. Authors of manuals or guides of any sort are bigger sellers in Thailand than novelists.
Should you learn Thai language?
To learn Thai is not a necessity. I mean I have French clients who can barely speak two words of English that have been living and doing business here for years. But to be able to speak Thai is certainly a plus.
How to learn Thai?
You can learn from a Professor. If you do so, you will, after some time, speak perfect Thai and be able to read and write. The problem is that you will learn good Thai pronunciation (which is very difficult to master) and you will learn the proper language, which Thais seldom use.
For example, Hospital in Thai language is Lompayabaan but all Thais use the contraction lombaan. There is an endless list of other contractions. Secondly, Thai people, when they talk, will in the same conversation describe themselves as I, he/she/we and sometimes women will call themselves Noo (which means “little mouse”).
Having learned with a teacher you might wonder, when talking with an older lady, what has a little mouse to do with anything that you were told. There are so many other nuances that you will never catch if you learn Thai formally.
May you learn with your Thai Girl Friend?
Do not expect your Thai girlfriend or wife to teach you the Thai language. She prefers you not to know it as she can talk more openly to her friends if you don’t understand what she says (Thais love gossip and you will be a big part of it) and if you don’t speak Thai you will need her everywhere you go.
If you speak Thai it is the end of the dependency relationship and you will be able to talk to other women. Your Thai wife or girlfriend will prefer you to stay ignorant of Thai language for as long as possible just to be able to keep an eye on you. So dont wait for her to teach you anything.
What is Thai “commando”?
The other way to learn Thai is to buy a dictionary with Thai language written in your own alphabet with a tape to get the right pronunciation. Then memorize 10 words per day and after a few weeks start to speak with Thai people.
My friend and competitor Philippe Lamy (the only other good French lawyer in town) who can read, write and speak Thai calls my version of Thai language “commando Thai”. It is true that sometimes it is not as smooth as his but it permits me to communicate with others. To know Thai language will allow you to understand more about Thai society and to get some of the subtle nuances and undercurrents, which regulate relationships between Thais.
Note: This post is an excerpt of Rene Philippe Dubout next book: “How to Invest Safely Into Thailand” to be published in January 2010
About the Author:
The author Rene-Philippe DUBOUT is a lawyer since 1990 when he was admitted to Geneva bar (Switzerland). He practiced as a litigator there for 10 years until he moved to Thailand in 1999. In 2002 he founded with a group of Thai lawyers Rene Philippe & Partners Ltd a local law firm that specialized in Cross Borders Investments and Real Estate. He has been lecturing in several Thai Universities and a speaker to numerous conferences and seminars. He is the author of a must read book:”How to Purchase Real Estate Offshore Safely: The Case of Thailand”.
© Copyrights 2009 – Rene Philippe Dubout – This article may be reprinted if information about the author, the websites, and the URLs remain intact
Originally posted 2009-08-11 12:47:19.