Seven’s 10 Top 10: The Thai Double-Standard

What’s up, it’s Friday. Time fo anava frowback, fools! This one’s from early in 2018 originally posted by the good folks over at Sweet3Mango. In it, we put a mirror up before the Thai people, to keep it real. To shine a light. To hit ‘em right where it counts.

Nah, I’m playin’. But this is a fact of life for us expats trying to navigate through the culture with our old Anglo-Saxon ways. Let’s hit it:

“Well hey there. It’s Seven. I live the dream in case you can’t. Today’s offering is another top 10 list, this time spending some time contemplating the wondrous behavioral paradox that is the standard Thais apply to foreigners as opposed to the one they apply to themselves. Let’s dive in.

  1. Punctuality. Thailand is famous for “Thai time,” which basically means that when a Thai person tells you they’re going to be somewhere at a certain time, it unofficially means they’ll arrive anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour late. Thais know this about each other and farang are meant to accept this about Thais. However, a farang will never be forgiven for being late. You, as the foreigner, are meant to endure Thai lateness without a word of objection, while at the same time never ever picking up the habit yourself. Such blatant disregard for decorum would be intolerable from you, the non-Thai person.
  2. Lying. “Why you lie to me?” is a question I’ve been asked by many a Thai girl over the years. It didn’t matter whether or not I did, in actuality, lie. The point is this: Never ever lie to a Thai. On the other hand, Thais lie effortlessly and frequently, and this is perfectly acceptable. It is a parcel of a concept Westerners struggle with, called “saving face.” If you ask a Thai person a question they don’t know the answer to, rather than say “Sorry, I can’t help you” they will offer their best guess, even if it isn’t remotely accurate. It’s also considered impolite in Thai culture to say “No” in some situations, so instead they will lie. This is considered being considerate.
  3. Cheating. Your Thai wife or girlfriend might stab you if you are unfaithful, and she will be vindicated, her actions supported and justified in the newspapers. You, as the farang, should know better than to cheat on your partner. If the roles are reversed, however, it is of course your fault for driving your lover into the arms of another. Either that or you’re expected to adopt a “don’t ask-don’t tell” approach to your Thai better half’s dalliances. Thais can cheat on Thais, and Thais can cheat on farang, but farang must not cheat on Thais. Das is verboten. It’s the same with other kinds of cheating, eg. students on tests or in sports. All tactics are acceptable if victory is the result. I once saw a middle aged man push a woman out of a window during a vocabulary relay race in a free English language lesson. There was no prize money or award involved, yet he bounced that lady out of the room without hesitation and everyone laughed their heads off.
  4. Politeness. It should go without saying that politeness is a huge part of Thai culture. From the use of “ka/krab” to the wai to open recognition of status, Thais adhere to a strict code for how they treat one another, and how they expect to be treated by foreigners. Conversely, as a foreigner you are not necessarily entitled to same-said code. You might be—but you might not be. Usually, if you are respectful you will be treated with respect, but in the event that you’re not, you can say nothing and do nothing. Because you are farang. If you slip up, or try to use rude confrontational behavior like you do in your home country because it works so well there, be ready for an earful of Thai insults, or worst case, a lead pipe to the skull.
  5. Paying back debts. If a Thai person loans money to another Thai, and the latter fails to pay back the former, it is criminal. If a farang borrows from a Thai—oh let’s be honest, Thais don’t loan to farang. But if a farang loans to a Thai and that Thai makes no effort whatsoever to pay it back, it is not the fault of the Thai. It is the fault of the farang for loaning the money in the first place.
  6. Cutting in line/jumping the queue. To be fair, this is true of most Asian countries. There’s no such thing as politely waiting one’s turn in a single file line at a cashier or a stop light or anywhere that a crowd gathers. The queue is, instead, a pile or mob or flock or menagerie, and the one who goes next is he who pushes forward first. But the farang must never do this. The farang must always cede to the Thai that wants to go first, even if they were not first. Or if not, push your way forward and earn the scorn of all Thais within scorning distance.
  7. Touching the head. So getting back to the politeness-attached-to-status thing, Thai culture is a ladder of importance. If you are of a lower status than someone else, eg. a child to a teacher, in addition to a slew of other rules, you may not touch the head of the person who is higher than you on the respect chain. The head is seen as the highest or most important part of the body, and by touching it, you are in a sense saying “You are beneath me.” Which is fine, as long as the person is. Having said that, though, there are many instances where a Thai of lower status might touch the head of someone in a higher clout bracket, and it’s shrugged off as no big deal. But if—God forbid—a farang were to commit the same offense… out. A coworker of mine once made the drunken misjudgment of snatching the hat off a Thai girl’s head in a bar, never mind that he was probably older and thus of higher status. He was farang. It earned him a severe beating from three nearby Thai guys and a night in jail for brawling in public. The best rule to follow, if you’re farang is this: don’t touch anybody’s head. Any Thai body’s head, anway.
  8. Walking while eating. This is a weird one, but in Thai society, if you want to eat, you should sit down to do it. Walking while cramming food in your face is considered very uncouth—unless you’re Thai, of course. Well I don’t actually know, maybe when a Thai person sees another Thai person walking while eating, they think to themselves “What an absolute boor.” All I know is, if you’re farang, you’re really painting yourself in a bad light when you do it. In fact, one of the teachers at a school where I worked was fired because one of the parents said she saw him walking while eating. No joke. He got fired.
  9. Drinking on the street. So, yes, it’s legal to buy a beer in 7-11 and then schlep down the street with it in your fat foreign mitt, swigging away as you zig-zag through the crowds of people, But just because it’s legal doesn’t mean you should. Thais look at foreigners who do that and consider them lowbrow, knuckle-dragging dregs. And they’re right. If you can’t afford bar prices, you probably should’ve just stayed home. Contrast that, though, with Thais who drink on the street. They’re typically seen as poor unfortunates, and while they don’t garner respect, they usually don’t draw ire either. They’re pitied more than anything.
  10. Being loud. Thais can be loud at times. It’s a combination of the tones of certain words in Thai, and the fact that most Thais—both male and female—have somewhat high-pitched voices. They also get loud when they’re happy or excited. It’s one of the things I love about Thais. They wear their hearts on their sleeves, are quick to laugh (and smile) and veritably bubble over with emotion on a regular basis. However, they also know which settings and scenarios call for quiet. One example is the BTS Skytrain. Thais generally keep quiet on the train, and when they talk, they speak softly. The same cannot be said for foreigners, who are as loud in every setting in Thailand as they are in their home country. Thais bitterly disdain this kind of behavior. Be loud when it’s time to be loud, but be quiet when it’s time to be quiet.

That one’s not so much a double standard for people as it is a confusing standard for locations and situations. But the foreigner is usually shamed for not knowing when to shut up. So here’s a bonus double standard for the list:

  1. Prices. This is a famous one. In many situations, like fines, entry fees, tickets, markets, and food, there are two prices—one for Thais and one for foreigners. Sometimes the gap is staggering, eg. 20 baht for Thais to visit a state park, and 200 for the farang at the same park. Whenever I buy something from the night market in Patpong, my Thai friends say “How much you pay?” And when I tell them, they shake their head and say “Next time I buy for you. Half price.” Foreigners have moaned about this for years, and it often gets attention in local papers and magazines. But I gotta say, I don’t really mind. For one thing, my salary is much, much, much bigger than the typical Thai salary. For another, I’ve realized that the longer I live here, the lower the price becomes for most things. The motorbike taxi guy outside my building charges me Thai prices now, as do the noodle kart ladies and many of the folks in MBK. Being able to speak Thai and make jokes really helps. I understand when tourists complain. They have no recourse. But since I loathe tourists, it’s difficult to drudge up much sympathy for those horrendous fucking people.

I want to say for the record that this is not a criticism of Thais. I love Thais and Thailand and thank my lucky stars every day for the good fortune to be living here. I prefer the company of Thais to everyone else, and would if I could eschew all other peoples for all time. The Thai double standard is just a fact of life, and although it’s at times an annoyance, it’s nowhere near as bad as the alternative, which would be suffering through existence in any other part of the world.  And if you can’t get here, and you want a taste of just how awesome it is, you can follow me on Twitter @BangkokSeven or browse the pics on my FB page.”

A year later, this one still holds water. Though I have to say that in that time, I’ve gotten to know the Thais in my neighborhood better, and I tell you what—they treat me less like a farang and more like a brother Thai every day. I’m trying to remember the last time one of the above DS’s were perpetrated on me and………..heavens to murgatroyd, it’s been a while. I suppose Thais still lie to me regularly, but it’s happened enough that now, I know when they’re doin’ it and why, and I accept it. If I ask a Thai into a corner and I know they can’t tell the truth and also save face, I know the lie is comin’ and I take it in stride. Ain’t no thang.


So cheers to every foreigner that learns the ropes in this fantastic country and doesn’t hold a grudge, or blog about it like a shitty little douche canoe. And see you back here on Sunday for the weekly. Peace.