Thai People

There have been books written about Thai people and how to deal with them in personal and business realms. In this article, I will keep it to just a few pages.

Of course, not all Thai people are the same, so it would be nonsense to say that all Thai people are one way or another. In this article I describe the average or typical Thai person, and the tendencies of the culture relative to others in the world. Nonetheless, there are always exceptions and all sorts.

There are variations in Thai culture depending on where you are -- in a suburban community vs. in an expat go-go bar, in an office, in the country, and which region of Thailand. The variations are not great, except if you go to the go-go bars (where they tend to be quite crude, aggressive, mercenary, selfish, and greedy, albeit less than equivalent places in other countries, so I hear).

The values and traits of Thai people include these:

  • Relaxed, not in a hurry about anything, cannot be hurried
  • Polite interaction, pleasant
  • Family, friends, community and good food are most important
  • Be happy, have fun ("sanuk")
  • Avoid conflict, keep your cool, don't lose your temper
  • In case of conflict, stay cool and reasonable, and compromise
  • Follow the authority(s)
  • Conform fairly well, but tolerate
  • Tolerate different kinds of people

Some people think they can come to Thailand and throw money around to get Thai people to do things. Sure, you can find some Thai people like that. However, it will be a much lower percentage than in other countries, and the results may not be the same.

Forcefulness and ruling by fear have even less longterm results than in other parts of the world. Notably, Thais are very good at cooperating with each other to cover up things from the boss and avoiding confrontation.

Thais don't tend to be self-starters or very creative people (except at humorous things). There aren't many inventions in the world from Thailand. While some products are improved here, many others are just made more cheaply which includes cutting corners on quality.

Discipline must be maintained in a workplace. What tends to work best is constant auditing whereby they know they are being audited, and a little bit of fear of the big boss. Not too much fear or they will go crazy and leave, but not too much fear or "when the cat's away, the mice will play". Be firm, yet polite. To be respectable, you should be respectful.

If confrontation is necessary, it is extremely important to do it in private, not in front of other people. Thais are much more sensitive to "Saving face", which is much more important in Thai culture than in European descended cultures.

If you learn the language, then you will learn the "polite particles" in the Thai language for which no equivalent exists in Western society. (Learning the Thai language and customs is a good way to learn the culture.)

Thai culture is fairly homogenous, compared to many other countries and regions of the world. It is remarkable that the Thai language is the native language of the indigenous people over such a large country, approximately 1500 km by 500 km. (In fact, the Lao (Laos) language is very similar to the Thai language, using essentially the same written characters and most of the same words. The Thai language also extends into the southernmost edge of China.)

The "religion" is Buddhism (and there has never been a war or fighting over Buddhism), which over 90% of Thais call themselves. The main exception is the small southernmost provinces bordering Malaysia which are predominantly Muslim.

The homogeneity of Thailand's culture and language has contributed to the peaceful and smooth nature of Thai people.

Thai Names

Thais are given a nickname by their family at a very young age, and this is what family, friends, and familiar associates call each other. This name is NOT a legal name, and does not exist anywhere in legal paperwork.

Thais are given a legal first name and surname at birth, but no middle name. When you first know a Thai person in an office or other fairly formal setting, then you address them as Khun [Firstname]. Later, this may switch to their nickname.

However, in very informal settings, Thai people will introduce themselves by their nickname only, and you may never know their real name unless you ask.

The nicknames are usually one syllable words though some are two syllable and sometimes three. Their translations mean silly things like "shrimp", "baby chicken", "eyes", "gift", and lots of other things.

Regional Differences

There are some slight regional differences between Thai people as they see each other.

Thais from the northwest are seen as the most compassionate and peaceloving.

Thais from the northeast are the poorest on average, and tend to be the most resilient as well as the best labor pool for unpleasant jobs. Many Thais in the northeast are a merge between Thai and Lao (Laotian) culture, and in fact a lot of Lao words are spoken within Thai sentences there.

Thais from the south (down the western peninsula) tend to be more independent minded and a little bit more assertive. This is a long coastline and you can see in their features that there is a lot of immigrant blood in them. Similar things can be said about parts of the southeast, but the southeast is a small part of the population.

Bangkok is populated mostly by people from all over Thailand who came to Bangkok for work or higher education.

In the big city of Bangkok, Thais tend to be much less community oriented, like people in any big city in the world. There is a stark difference between city people and country people in Thailand.

Chinese Thais

There have been many Chinese immigrants over the past few hundred years. Many Thai families have Chinese blood in them. In most of them, you cannot see any cultural difference; nonetheless, in MANY partly or wholly "Chinese Thai" families there is a MAJOR difference between them and mainstream Thais.

Most Chinese came to Thailand due to crop failures in China or just looking for better opportunities overseas, and so many arrived destitute. Most of the immigrants actually didn't leave offspring, but many did survive and thrive here based on sheer effort and smarts.

A large subset of Chinese immigrants have created descendants instilled with a strong work ethic and who value education. When you look at the top people in the banks, business, and society, you will see a disproportionate percentage of Chinese Thais.

It is a nice blend of work ethic, education, and pleasant Thai ways.

There are some interesting studies about why Thailand has achieved a relatively high per capita income for the Asian region, and modernity with good infrastructure, compared to other countries, despite the fact that Thailand was the only country in the region never colonized.

One of the most interesting analyses is that it's because the Thai people were much more tolerant of immigrants, and readily assimilated them into Thai society, rather than the usual tribal ways of bigotry, xenophobia, resistance and overly nationalistic laws against immigrants. The old Thai kings especially fostered the assimilation of immigrants.

(Of course, the United States did likewise in the 1700s. Also, 2500 years ago, Rome was originally a low class poor town in Italy, but was known as the most tolerant and hospitable town for immigrants.)

This hospitality extends into the present time, which is a major reason why Thailand is a favored destination for tourists and businesspeople alike. Including myself, who has travelled around Asia and settled down in Thailand!

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