Thai Culture (a different view) ...

Recently my wife has shown more interest in the computer and becoming more proficient using it.  She finds my computer a little intimidating so asked me to setup the laptop for her use, with internet access through a wifi link.  I believe her main concern, is somehow messing up the main computer and not a need for privacy.  After all, we have never had any secrets between us.  We use Apple Mail to compile all our various email addresses into one place.  From both computers we have access to all the same stuff and share the same internet connection.

I’m sure there are some who would be appalled by this openness and lack of privacy.  For us it is simply the way our world works.  So, why am I mentioning this?  I suppose it is to answer questions that will arise when you read the next sentence.

I was reading over an email my wife wrote to a dear friend yesterday.  Her insights and comments got me thinking about Farangs and the way we sometimes see Thai culture.  Being a Farang in Thailand is vastly different from being a Thai in Thailand.  Much has been written in other venues, of how some Farangs feel they are slighted or disadvantaged, by the Thai system.  My predilection is to explore the advantages of being a foreigner in this foreign land. 

My wife’s words reminded me that we (foreigners) take for granted our ability to discuss things openly and disagree on a wide variety of subjects and topics.  We need not be unnecessarily concerned with the other’s social class, title, age or seniority, unlike a Thai.  We don’t concern ourselves with what is “appropriate behavior”.  We are not paralyzed by our fear of what others will think of us or say about us.  We are not afraid to defend ourselves when we feel wronged.  Many things that we take for granted would be unimaginable for a Thai, at least within the confines of their own culture.  That is why some Thais, and in particular my wife, have a difficult time readjusting.  Being placed back into the Thai “box”, after having developed a taste for a more Western style of communication, can be quite distressing.

She finds it extremely difficult to find other Thai women who are interested in, or indeed capable, of interacting on a level that she now considers necessary for a close interpersonal relationship.  One is not lonely here in a classic sense, as one is always surrounded by others.  There is a nonstop flow of food and conversation that belies the overwhelming constraints imposed by the local culture.  Not feeling free to express yourself and having to wear a mask can leave one feeling quite lonely, however.  On the surface things appear much more civil than they sometimes do in the West, but much is repressed and there are limited outlets for what boils below the surface.

There is a temptation as a foreigner, to downplay or dismiss the importance of these social constraints.  We naively urge the Thais in our lives to disregard or pay no attention to the pressures they feel.  Even when transplanted to another culture, however, it can be very difficult, and sometimes impossible, for a Thai to disregard these deeply internalized restrictions. 

It appears to me, that one can make the argument that it is not Thai Culture, per say, that we find so enticing as foreigners.  It is the unique freedom we are granted within this society, to be free of and unfettered by what it means to be Thai.  We are free to do, say and act in ways that are not possible for Thais.  We hold a unique place in Thai society.  At once both reviled and revered.  We are granted an elevated status, while at the same time, much less is expected of us.  We are forgiven our indiscretions and bestowed with an image of wealth, status and sophistication that is often in error and unrelated to the facts.  We are allowed, and sometimes even induced, to a deluded vision of ourselves.  An elevated sense of superiority and self-worth, is not uncommon among the expat community. 

I am making no judgements as to the rightness or wrongness of all this.  Merely making observations of the world I know and live in, which may be quite different from what others “know.”  I think it is fair to say I have been exposed to more of Thailand than most, over the years.  Granted, it may lack relevance to those who find themselves confined to a limited subgroup of the expat community.  Others, I’m sure, will have similar views and observations.  One thing that is certain, is that there is no one single Thailand or Farang relationship with it.  When asked about Thailand most of my answers are necessarily prefaced by ... “it all depends.”