The Signs on the Road.
In today’s article, I will tackle the specific differences between Western culture and Thai culture. Believe me, there are A LOT of differences in the two cultures and not just in wording and spelling! It goes waaay deeper than that, in so many areas, and the differences could actually surprise you. This is only natural because as human beings, we are all different and raised in different backgrounds. It’s only natural! This article is meant as a signpost of sorts, something to help you identify the differences beforehand, so you can hopefully adjust and act accordingly. It should act as a warning sign of sorts.
The best example I can think of is a sign on the road. Road signs are used in a similar manner. Signs like ‘Caution: Wet Road!’ or ‘Curving Road Ahead.’ or ‘Slow Down.’ or even ‘Slow Down. Curving Road Ahead.’ All these signs have something in common. Can you see it? They are all used to warn the motorist of impending bends on the road, or any kind of traffic hazard that could potentially cause harm to him, or her. These warning signs are used so that the motorist will know of the unusual conditions on the road and adjust accordingly. Used properly, these road signs can avoid serious accidents, and are a valuable tool for overall road safety.
This article should be read the same way. Think of it as one big road sign, and your relationship the flow of traffic. The article is meant to point out the various differences in Thai and Western cultures. How you adapt and adjust will be up to you and your partner. Just as with the road signs, adjust your driving to suit the change in road conditions.
Just to make sure that your relationship or the flow of traffic moves smoothly and with minimal accidents well, follow the road signs! This article should give you the heads-up regarding any cultural differences you and your partner might have. With that knowledge, you will be better prepared and you should both be better off for it. After all, no one wants to be in any kind of accident, right? So read on, and be informed!
One More Thing!
Before I forget! I must remind everyone reading this article, that in no way do I espouse any particular culture over the other. That is to say that I don’t believe that any culture is ‘better’ or ‘superior’ than the other. I don’t believe that a particular culture creates better individuals than the other one. That would just be downright biased and even discriminatory. That is not who I am, and that is not what these articles are about. I don’t wish to offend anyone. Everyone is entitled to their own preferences regarding culture and religion. It is always a matter of choice and free will. Again, I’m only here to try to help everyone achieve harmony and understanding in their Western and Thai multi-cultural relationships! Enjoy!
Free speech is something we all value. We all want to have the freedom to speak our minds out about any topic. It is an intrinsic part of our being human and how we conduct ourselves. Regarding free speech, Thai and Western cultures can be very different! Read on.
From the West:
Thai people may find the Westerners rather brash and loud-mouthed at first. Westerners are very well known the world over as being completely outspoken. They will say what they want when they want, and how they want. Their society does not put any restrictions to the flow of ideas and speech. Just think of their legendary icons. Muhammad Ali. John F. Kennedy. Hulk Hogan, or any pro wrestler. In the modern era, incoming president Donald Trump. America is a country that values free speech and is not ashamed to flaunt it. The West is a society that has produced Hollywood, the WWE, YouTube, and many other institutions that thrive on being outspoken. Is it any wonder that a Western man will usually be just as outspoken?
Western men will almost always feel free to say anything about everything. They will be very candid and blunt about what they feel. You can’t really blame them, because that is just who they are, and that is how their society works.
From the Thais:
While it is not a crime to say anything in Thailand, and anyone can say anything there, Thais treat free speech a little more delicately. Thais in general are a lot more careful with their words. Many Thais do not want to offend their fellow man so would rather just keep quiet if they feel there is no need to say anything about a given topic. They would rather be patient and just quietly bear what they can bear. This quiet and patient nature doubles exponentially with Thai women who are raised to be the picture of calm and serenity. This is not to say that Thais will always be patient and will never speak up. Even the longest and most tolerant person has their limits. They only prefer to just keep quiet as much as possible to avoid conflict.
Regarding General Freedom:
From The Thais:
The traditional Thai culture is very conservative, and many Westerners would find it very restrictive and limiting, especially Western women. Families are very close, there are many restrictions on sex especially for women, and generally men are given a very high position of authority. Patience and charity are also always emphasized over material gains. Now while this is still the general culture in Thailand, it is also slowly changing. If you go to Bangkok now, you will see that it is a very modern metropolis with many career women doing a lot of things the guys do. There are many independent Thai women out there who will readily give the Western woman a run for her independent money. However, as I said earlier, this is still not the general culture in the whole country. Thailand is a country renowned for its sense of serenity and peaceful lifestyle. It is still a laid-back country overall, and it will still take a lot of time before that changes.
From the West:
The culture and atmosphere is vastly different in the West. Here everyone is generally free to do what they want. A lot of people have the freedom to do anything and be anything they want to be. A country that has produced a city like New York definitely values freedom. New York is a city that is a melting pot of various cultures and lifestyles. Different immigrants from different countries and all walks of life freely mingle and try to go for ‘The American Dream’ a concept of a better, and less restrictive life than from where they came from. Some get it, and some do not. Again, I am not here to judge what is better from what is not. I am only here to show the differences and you act accordingly.
It is interesting to note that homosexuals seem to be treated with a lot more respect in Thailand than in the West. In Thailand, where being homosexual is not considered as some kind of disease or sin, but rather more of karma for a past life, homosexuals are given a lot of priority and influence in society. Compare this to the West where many homosexuals are still struggling to establish acceptance and tolerance from all. It is quite an interesting paradox considering that overall, Western culture seems much more liberal and unrestrictive. It only shows that there are truly a lot of complex differences in both cultures.
I think it is safe to say that we all value family. It is a good thing to put importance on the family unit, your roots, and where you come from. How the family is viewed and valued however, is very different in the West and in Thailand.
From the Thais:
Families are very important in Thai culture. For Thais, a family is all about the ties that bind. Families are so important to Thais that divorce, while not prohibited, is still frowned upon. It’s not encouraged to split-up in Thailand, and marriage is usually viewed as a lifetime commitment. Parents are also viewed very highly in Thailand. Children are expected to give back to their parents in some way, when they are capable enough. Kids are expected to respect and value the parents as authority figures. It is also usually unthinkable to send parents to a nursing home in Thailand. It is more customary that the family chips in and help their parents get by when they are old.
From the West:
While a family is also very important in the West, there are many key differences. Divorce is not uncommon in Western society and it is not frowned upon. It is viewed as something common and there are many counseling services available for kids who might be traumatized because of the experience.
Children are also not obligated to give back to their parents when they are old enough. Many of them still do, however simply because they love and respect their parents. It is also common for children to send their parents to nursing homes for the aged when they have gotten older.
How the Thais treat religion, and how the West does can be starkly different. You would be surprised how different their views can be. This could be something that can surprise both of you, so read on.
From the Thais:
Thais view religion very seriously. Thais are a Buddhist country, so a majority of the population are practicing Buddhists. This is a religion that puts a very high emphasis on karma, and reincarnation. Buddhists believe that every action, good or bad, and big and small counts a lot. This is because Buddhists believe in reincarnation, which is essentially living life over and over again after someone dies. Depending on your good or bad deeds in your previous life, you will earn ‘good’ or ‘bad’ karma. The outcome of karma could result in drastic differences in the next life you live. Good karma can result in a better wealthier reincarnation, while bad karma can result in something as severe as being reborn as a mosquito. With this in mind, Thais are very careful to be very good to everyone as much as they can. They want to earn that good karma and will go to great lengths to do so. This makes every small act of goodness count. They will donate faithfully to their church and help support monks any way they can.
Also making fun of religion is a big no-no for Thais.
From the West:
Most Westerners are raised in some form of Christianity, be it Protestant, Amish, Catholic, or any other Christian denomination. Their religion is very different from Buddhism. They believe this is the only life one has, and one is rewarded with some kind of reward or punishment in the afterlife. Also, because they are much more liberal in the West, making fun of religion is not uncommon, although the more conservative Westerners will also frown upon it. There are even very conservative and strict religions in the West. The Mormons and the Amish come to mind. They even have a term for such conservative and strict preachers of religion. They call them ‘Bible Thumpers’ for their penchant to quote the Bible often, and for their habit of slamming down the holy book for extra effect. Despite this, by and large, religion is still not practiced as strictly in Thailand, as it is in the West.
The Educational System:
From the Thais:
The educational system of the Thais is decent but not as advanced as the Western system. Many Thais are still not proficient in English, and career choices are more limited. A career in the arts is also usually frowned upon for something more stable like being a nurse, a doctor, or a teacher. To the Thais, practicality and earning a stable income to support the family is very important, and they will go for that kind of option, more often than not.
From the West:
The educational system of the Western world is admittedly more advanced and progressive. English is widely taught and a lot of kids are very fluent in the Global language. Arts and Philosophy also have as much priority as more traditional subjects like medicine, or the sciences. Is it any wonder that Hollywood and the popular media have mainly come from America? In the West, artistic professions like singers, actors, or anything with the creative arts is given a lot of importance. This gives children much more freedom to choose their profession after they graduate. In the West, just about any profession is welcomed.
The Role of Men and Women.
For the Thais:
Thai culture is much more traditional and structured than Western culture. Because of this, men have a very elevated status in the social hierarchy. Males are given the traditional assignment to work and earn a living. It is the man’s job to provide for the family. Thai society expects men to live up to this standard, so there are a lot of opportunities for men to make a living. There is always more work for men in Thai society.
Women on the other hand, are regarded as traditionally taking care of the house, raising the children, and generally keeping everything in order at the home. A Thai woman is expected to be prim and proper, and good at housekeeping and other related chores. As mentioned earlier, this traditional way of living could prove a little restrictive to Western women who are used to an equal role with the men. However, with the advent of the information era, women are also slowly gaining much more acceptance, job opportunities, and equal standing in Thai society. In modern cities like Bangkok, a lot of women already occupy influential positions at the office, and in other work. However, the general roles of men and women have not really changed, and are not likely to do so, for some time.
For the Westerners:
Here, women enjoy a much more prominent role. Women are just about equal with the men in just about everything. In the West, any woman can get any job that is open to any man. It would in fact, be very offensive, and sexist to even imply that a woman could not do things a man can do. Because of the more liberal slant of everything in the West, women enjoy much more freedom and privileges. As a result, they are far more outspoken and daring in the West. Taking this into consideration, it is a little ironic that America has not elected a female president yet.
Marriage and settling down.
For the Thais:
Marriage and settling down is taken very seriously in Thailand. For this reason there are some Thai customs that Westerners might find a little different from theirs in regards to getting married.
For one thing, Thais are much closer to their families. In Thai culture, a man seeking a woman’s hand in marriage will have to really impress the woman’s family in many ways. He will need to get close to the family, and will probably be required to do them some favors just too well, earn their favor! Usually, a man has to even pay the family in some way. It is a form of tribute of sorts, but it does make sense considering that Thais have very close family ties. They would only want to make sure that their daughter is paired off with a man who is ready in every way to support their daughter. These are only a means to ensure this.
For the Westerners:
There is still a lot of tension when dealing with in-laws. I don’t really think that this is avoidable, whatever your race or culture is. Still, the man does not really need to do favors for the family to prove himself worthy of their daughter’s hand. Often a long talk, followed by several tense family dinners will suffice. Westerners still value freedom above everything else, and they are willing to trust the man, to a point at least. As long as they meet him and have a good talk about his plans and what else he may have in store, they will give their blessing, even if it is a little reluctantly.
So there you have it! These are many of the key differences in Thai and Western cultures. There are many more differences that I have probably not mentioned. Remember we are all different people, and culture can be a very complex and vastly different thing, depending on the individual. As I mentioned earlier, the key here is to understand each other and accept each other’s differences. We will always have our individual differences because we were raised in different countries with different backgrounds. That is just who we are, and trying to change each other would be grossly unfair. Despite this, Western men and Thai women can work to just accept each other and live in harmony. Besides, would you really want to spend so much time with someone who was exactly like yourself? Wouldn’t you rather have someone who was different, but whom you shared a mutual understanding with?
In short, same same, but different!