October 18, 2019

Taking Showers in Thai Culture

How many showers do you need to take in Thailand? With Thailand’s hot weather, you will be sweating to death in the tropical heat! Taking Showers in Thailand more than twice a day is good for health, comfort and image.

If you have ever seen an Asian squat toilet or Thai toilet, you know that Thai culture in regard to bathroom activities is different than in Western countries.

Smelling fresh and looking good is important to Thai people. Making a polite appearance in Thailand consists of being neatly dressed and smelling fresh. If you do smell bad, although Thai people are normally very polite and reserved, there is a chance of having it pointed out to you by people holding their news or whispering that you stink!

If you happen to show up at a friend’s house smelling bad or not feeling fresh, it is not rude at all to ask to use the shower. There is also a good chance that they will offer their bathroom to you. Thailand is filled with a profusion of truly terrible smells. One smell that is noticeably missing is that of body odor.

During the hottest months of the year three showers a day is sometimes a necessity. In the cooler months, so much showering is not needed but for most it is a habit that is hard to break.

Child Rearing: Summer Jobs

Many westerners view the memories of their first summer jobs with a touch of nostalgia. Teenage summers spent lifeguarding, performing waitressing and the like are seen by most westerners as badges of honor; those first honest dollars earned at minimum wage in wretched conditions are seen as part of the process of growing up.

These same westerners are in for a rude awakening, therefore, when they try to impress Thai spouses with horror stories from these first employment experiences. Rather than responding with laughter or respect, most Thais will probably only express bafflement and sympathy.

Rather than seeing teenage jobs as foundations for self-discipline and fiscal responsiblity, Thais view the issue of teenagers working as child labor – undesirable, unfortunate, and certainly nothing to be proud of. Thai culture views teenagers as children; children ideally are protected from the harsh realities of the working world until they reach adulthood. Jobs for teenages are seen as a sign of familial poverty, and children who are forced to work before adulthood are pitied.

The issue stands to become a greater concern for a Thai-Western couple with children. Differing views of the importance of summer jobs hold the potential to become a significant source of tension. A western parent may see a summer job as an important stepping stone towards adulthood,  but a Thai parent may see summer employment as an unnecessary and harsh interruption of childhood.

But how to solve this dispute? Issues to consider include both location, the child in question’s interests,  and how working might impact the child’s future entry into a university. Summer jobs are an institution in the west, and are therefore much more readily available to a Thai-Western family living outside of Thailand – it’s less certain whether a teenager in Thailand will be able to find employment for the short summer months. Another issues is where the student in question desires to attend university. Western universities, particularly those in the United States, are increasingly interested in how applicants have augmented their grades and test scores with extracurricular activities, and summer jobs may be a means to demonstrate leadership and other important qualities.  Finally, the child’s own interests should (obviously) be considered. Many teenagers like the sense of independence gained from summer jobs, not to mention the extra cash.

 

Physical Contact and Personal Space in Thailand

Westerners who are living in Thailand or involved with Thais often receive very mixed messages when it comes to physical contact and personal space. On one hand, all forms of public physical affection between men and women are said to be impolite; on the other, young Thai woman may be sometimes seen walking down the street holding hands, something rarely seen in the west. Attitudes towards both public displays of affection and personal space in Thailand differ greatly from those in the west, so let’s discuss some basics.

Public Displays of Affection:

Despite its infamous reputation for being a hub for international sex tourism,Thailandis still in many ways a very conservative country, and Thai attitudes towards physical contact between men and women reflect this. When in public, kissing between men and women is considered completely inappropriate, even in cosmopolitan cities like Bangkok. Hand-holding and standing with arms around each others’ waists is typically fine in larger cities, but may still be frowned upon in more conservative areas of the country (it’s usually better to be safe than sorry).

Physical Forms of Greetings:

While handshakes, hugs, and kisses on cheeks are acceptable forms of greeting in the West, Thais frown on physical greetings between both strangers and between the sexes. While handshakes are considered a formal form of greeting the West, many Thais may find the physical contact inappropriate and awkward. In nearly all situations, business or casual, the traditional wai is an acceptable form of greeting.

Casual Physical Contact Between Sexes

In the West, shaking hands, patting the arms, and other small forms of contact between acquaintances of different genders are considered commonplace. In Thailand, they will likely be considered awkward and invasive, and should be avoided.

Personal Space

While westerners are typically unruffled by kissing in public, handshakes, and contact between genders, they are usually very possessive of their personal space. Depending on their country of origin, a westerner may prefer to maintain a distance of 2-4 feet between himself and his peers, even among friends. Beyond greetings, physical contact between friends and peers may make many westerners uncomfortable or may signal a romantic interest. Thais, by contrast, require very little personal space, especially among friends, though they will not greet each other with hugs.

Losing Your Temper in Thailand Will Make You a Loser

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What happens when a Westerner loses his or her temper in Thailand?
While Westerners might view people who cry, shout, yell, or argue aggressively in public as being merely “hot-headed” and “frustrated”, Thais are likely to view such displays as being indicators of mental health issues and poor breeding. Losing your temper and shouting in Thailand is a faux pas of the highest degree. Such behavior violates not only traditional Thai values that emphasize social harmony and saving face, it also violates cherished Buddhist beliefs dictating moderate behavior and a calm demeanor.

Occasionally, misinformed Westerner may tout the benefits of being forceful and aggressive in Thailand, insisting that arguing with bank employees, store clerks, taxi drivers and metro attendants is the best way to accomplish a task in a country known for its relaxed attitude.

Maintaining your cool under tough circumstances is called “Jai yen” or “Cool heart”. Thais place a high value on individuals who are able to respond to upsetting and frustrating events with moderate and reserved behavior, and those that are unable to control their emotions are conversely regarded as being childish, ill-mannered, or possibly mentally unhinged.

Sometimes, westerners losing their tempers in Thailand result in assault cases, and you may need a Thai lawyer to solve a big problem when a little “Jai yen” would have save you from trouble.

Demystifying Kreng Jai

 

Kreng Jai, which literally means “awe of heart” but can best be translated into “consideration”, is a cause of much frustration for foreigners who live in Thailand or foreigners with Thai partners. The concept of Kreng Jai is an important on in Thai culture and has been characterized as “the essence of Thai-ness”, but what specifically this nature entails can be hard to describe.

Kreng Jai manifests itself as a general desire not to disrupt the happiness of others, even at the expense of efficiency, honesty, or one’s own interests. When guidebooks describe Thai people as being “accommodating”, they are (perhaps unconsciously) describing the effects of Kreng Jai.

Kreng Jai is usually a function of feeling uncertain or distanced from from people and desiring to avoid offending them; as such Kreng Jai is usually not a factor among nuclear families, or between couples, who are close enough to show their true feelings and avoid formality; Kreng Jai is a greater concern for foreigners who are establishing relationships with new in-laws and new Thai acquaintances.

Kreng Jai might affect the lives of guileless foreigners living in Thailand in a number of ways. When a coworker fails to correct an error you’ve made in a meeting because he doesn’t want to embarrass you, he’s feeling Kreng Jai. When your spouse refuses to send back a meal at a nice restaurant even though the dish is substandard, she’s feeling Kreng Jai. When a salesperson assures you that a delivery can absolutely, certainly, definitely be made within a required time frame but even if said time frame turns out to be impossible….that salesperson is certainly feeling Kreng Jai.

There’s also flip side to Kreng Jai – when foreigners cause offense by misinterpreting or abusing Thai feelings of consideration or concern. A young Thai woman who feels offended by the behavior of an older foreign man may feel unable to correct him due to the constraints of Kreng Jai, which then allows the offending individual in question to continue his bad behavior.  A Thai coworker may be grossly offended if you critique his work in blunt, critical terms. In return for their consideration of others , Thais expect to have their own feelings considered as well. Too often, foreigners grossly insult Thais by thoughtlessly accepting their consideration and generosity without offering any in return – or worse, by interpreting Kreng Jai as a sign of weakness that can be exploited.

Sadly, there’s no real manual on Kreng Jai, and its a skill that can only be learned through repeated exposure to Thai culture. Our main advice to foreigners is to twofold:

1) When dealing with the frustrations and inefficiencies that occur when and individual feels (and acts on) Kreng Jai towards you, take a deep breath and tell yourself “Mai Ben Rai“.  The concepts of Kreng Jai is as old as Thai culture and definitely isn’t going anywhere. If you wish to live in Thailand, marry a Thai spouse, or interact with Thais at all, you’ll just have to accept the little delays that at side effects of receiving such consideration.

2) Avoid abusing Thai feelings of Kreng Jai by practicing treating those you interact with deference and respect. Notice how your Thai coworkers and acquaintances interact with you, and mimic these behaviors, as they’re probably a good example of how these individuals expect to be treated. If your coworkers never interrupt you, never interrupt them. If your new friend continually offers you rides, try politely refusing and offering to transport him somewhere instead.

Kreng Jai is essentially a dance – a figurative give-and-take of consideration and good manners. To give Kreng Jai is to receive it… so go forth, readers, and be considerate.

Thai Spouses and Showers

It’s no coincidence that the biggest Thai holiday of the year is Songkran,  an annual water festival that is essentially  a 3-day-long country-wide water fight. Young or old, man or woman, Thai or foreigner, no one emerges from Songkran without at least one sound dunking – and when your Thai co-revelers see you walking down the street, wringing water from your clothes, they’ll probably enthusiastically tease you about “taking a shower”.

Showers are, to put it mildly, a very big deal in Thailand, and indeed in most of Southeast Asia. Thais shower a lot. And if you are planning on even being friends, let alone a partner of a Thai national, you should be aware that the practice of showering will, at one time or another, become an issue in your relationship.

The average Thai considers 2-3 showers a day (whether they need them or not) to be the foundations of good hygiene. While their western partners may protest the waste of both time and water, and argue that denizens of a country so hot and humid should be used to sweat and body odor, the fact remains that dirty, sweaty, smelly bodies elicit total disgust in Thais. This is, after all, a country where people compulsively huff menthol sticks and openly hold their noses whenever a slightly sweaty individual walks by.

Most Thais will take one shower in the morning, a second in the middle of the day or before going out to meet friends in the evening, and a final shower late at night. Thais who live in houses not blessed with air conditioning may take several showers a day during the hot season in an attempt to keep cool.

Staying comfortable, clean, and sweet-smelling is after all the basis of the Thai shower addiction. Westerners may be affronted that the 1 shower-a-day habit that usually kept them clean in their native lands is regarded as gross and barbaric by their Thai spouses, friends, and in-laws. However, the Thai habit of incessant showering is probably one custom that you should adopt, at least if you plan to live in Thailand. Cold showers multiple times a day will help keep you in the good graces of the locals, and more importantly, you’ll be a lot more comfortable in the paralyzing heat of hot season. Think of showering not as a troublesome custom, but instead as a weapon to aid you as you battle Thailand’s climate.

 

Respect Thy Elders

Making nice with your in-laws is a universal rule. The specific manner in which you respect these in-laws, and any other individuals who are considered “elders” does matter, however, so please pay attention to this blog post if you know what’s good for you.

You may protest “But I do respect my grandparents, in-laws, aunts, uncles, and fairy godmothers!” Maybe you do; however, most westerners show the respect they feel for elders in ways that differ dramatically from the ways in which Thais show respect.

Think about the ways you show your grandparents, parents, ect that you love them. Maybe you joke with them, laugh with them, include them, email them, and invite them to family events. Many western families show their love for each other through loud arguments and uproarious conversation. Moreover, westerners in general seem to feel that the respect they feel towards elders does not need to be formally expressed; love and respect are believed to manifest themselves in small ways.

Thai culture has its own very specific way of honoring elders, and showing respect towards elderly friends and relatives is believed to be both a duty and the basis of good manners.

Thais show their elders respect in very specific ways. These include:

1) Greeting elders with a wai.

2) Never standing over or sitting above an elder.

3) Speaking in a quiet and respectful voice, and using formal language. This rule is often a problem for some westerners, as many western families show their love and respect for elderly relatives by including them in conversations and boisterous arguments.

4) Never interrupting an elder.

5) Treating the elder as an honored guest, rather than as a friend. Thais are hospitable people as a general rule, and they roll out the proverbial red carpet for elder guests with snacks, drinks, and other goodies.

As a general rule, individuals who marry into a Thai family should be aware that merely feeling and expressing respect for elders is not considered sufficient in Thai culture. Manners matter to Thais, and showing respect via the avenues outlined above are considered basic good manners – they are not an option, but a duty.