Being a Foreign Man in Thailand.
In general, Thai people are gentle and peaceable, but they do know that they are poor compared to the West and they are very quick to notice if someone is even only apparently putting them down. They do have their pride, after all, and rightly so. Sometimes, a foreign man will make an insensitive comment quite innocently and upset the Thais around him, especially the proud me.
This is normally where an expat, usually a foreign man, comes unstuck, if it is going to happen. Some foreigners cannot abide a reduction in the level of service that they have become accustomed to, but Thais have their own way of doing things and, not having travelled, know no other standard anyway.
A foreign man in Thailand should do as the locals do and put up with conditions with a brave smile or move on. This applies equally to women, of course, but they are given far more leeway in these matters.
Thais, between themselves, are usually so subtle in their way of expressing themselves, that most Westerners will not know what has been meant exactly. Western men tend to want to have everything explained to them and bluntly too, but that is not the Thai way.
Since most foreign men cannot speak Thai, and the average Thai in the countryside cannot speak English, the only thing that the majority of foreign men can do is let the women make the running, which is what the majority of men would do in their home country anyway.
A foreign man should realise that generally, the Thai wife holds the purse strings to the family budget, especially in rural families. This will probably come as a huge surprise to foreign guys in Thailand, who only know Pattaya and Bangkok, and especially to foreign women who assume that all the local women are oppressed.
The house is traditionally given to a girl, so that when she or her daughter marries, the wife holds all the cards. Likewise in marriage, the dowry is paid for the wife, not by the bride’s family.
The reason for this is so that the woman is not destitute if her husband leaves her, or far more likely these days, if she won’t put up with his philandering and kicks him out.
Polygamy was traditional, until 1932, which is not that long ago and many men still think it is their right to have a ‘second wife’, however a growing number of women will not put up with it any longer.
Foreign men are not as used to having ‘second wives’, but Thai women are even stricter with them than with Thai men, especially if they have already secured a house and a dowry from him.
On the other hand, many older Thais have never met a foreigner before, so they want to touch and squeeze their arms and legs. It is quite common for an old man to stroke the hairs on my arms as if I were a cat! As a foreign man in Thailand, it is best to just put up with it.
Sometimes, women will make it quite obvious that they are curious too, but it is vital to resist unless your wife is present, because it is easier for her to stop what is going on, if it becomes too ‘near’.
If you are amongst strangers and a beautiful Thai girl starts coming on to you, keep your hands to yourself, because you never know who is watching. Honey traps, real and accidental are common, so be careful because you don’t know whose girlfriend she is.
All the best,
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Podcast: Being a Foreign Man in Thailand