My Social Relationships in Thailand
In holiday resorts, everyone wants social relationships with tourists for one reason or another and most
people speak at least a little English.
However, in the remote villages, most people say that they cannot speak English, by which they mean that they
did a bit in school, but have forgotten it all - just like most Brits learned some French at school, but can't
speak it, which makes building social relationships more difficult.
I would guess that this group forms more than 90% of those under 50 years of age. Some will nod hello and smile;
some will speak Thai very loudly at you hoping that the increased volume will help you understand and others will
seem to ignore you.
However, most people in this last group will say hello, if you say it first. The hardest group to talk to is the
teenage boys; the easiest group is the teenage girls and then the older people (20-40 years olds) of both sexes.
Women in the 20-20 age group are split 50-50 between all right and impossible to talk to. Probably because hubby
might get jealous.
Except for my wife's female friends, most women between 20 and 30 will not acknowledge me if my wife is present
of if they are with their husbands. The main problem with those who want to build social relationships is
Thais only say 'hello' when they answer the phone and then they pronounce it 'han-lo'. Thais are fastidious with
the pronunciation of their words, so they do not assume that my 'hello' is the same as their 'han-lo'. However,
this not the only language problem.
Thais don't say hello as we do. If you pass someone in the street, the correct salutation is: 'Where are you
going?' I sit in a shop for a few hours every day and the correct thing to say is 'What have you bought?' as they
If you just say 'hello' in either of these situations, they will tell you where they are going or what they have
just bought anyway.
my explanation for this is that they are all farmers and they all have aches and pains and all get sick. Until
recently, they just had to get over it on their own or die, so it was best not to ask.
Nowadays, hospitals are more accessible and more affordable, so maybe Thais will start asking: 'How are you?'.
They have the words, but I know only one person who asks this question regularly (and possibly because I am not
It is easy to feel that people are keeping you at arm's length, but when you understand more about the language
and the culture, it becomes clearer (or it does to me) why this is happening.
Thais are very proud people, but appear to have a very low self-esteem. They cannot bear being wrong and very
few Thais will ever admit that they don't know something or that they are wrong. My wife won't, but if I get an
extra cake with my coffee, I know what she is saying.
Thais try very hard not to embarrass one another. Therefore, they do not criticize one another and cannot
tolerate criticism. Sometimes this perpetuates mediocrity.
by Owen Jones