Behind the Smile, the story of Lek, a bargirl in Pattaya

The Story of Lek, a Bar Girl in Pattaya
'Daddy's Hobby'

Thais, Face and Criticism

You will doubtless have heard of 'face' and 'saving face'. Asians are particularly renowned for it. I live in Thailand and have to live with it every day, because it is such an important part of Thai life, although I do not know whether Thais take face more seriously than other Asians.

Thais, Face and Criticism

Thais, Face and Criticism

One thing is for sure though, if you want to live in Thailand, you had better learn how to deal with face pretty quickly. In Thailand, they take face so seriously that not only do they try to save their own face, they try to save others embarrassment too. The objective is not to allow anyone to lose face, because it might reflect badly on you.

This shows itself in many ways, but a simple example is if, say, someone trips over a stone and drops a bag of eggs. In the West, we would say: "Oh, what a shame!", which implies a tragedy and the person who tripped up will feel clumsy. However, in Thailand, people would smile or even laugh and say: "At least eggs are cheap".

Making a joke out of a potentially embarrassing situation is one of the reasons why Thailand is called "The Land of Smiles".

In order to cause the least amount of embarrassment (and so save the most face), one should never criticise anyone. Never, ever. Another example will illustrate this.

In the West, if the newspaper is late in the morning, we would say: "Blessed paperboy is always late!", but in Thailand they would not assume automatically that it was the paperboy's fault.

They would not cast blame, until they knew for sure and even then they would probably say nothing until one day they had had enough and they would move their order to another shop. But no-one would ever know why that had been done and no-one would ever ask, because it might elicit an embarrassing answer.

Thais do not ask: "How are you?" as a greeting for the same reason. They greet each other with: "Where are you going?", because the answer is less likely to be awkward.

Thais are funny with the truth - most Thais are religious about telling the truth. A thief and murderer, when confronted by the police, will say: "Yes, I raped and murdered her and then I ransacked the house", but if you ask a Thai for directions and he doesn't know, he will just send you somewhere.

That way, he doesn't have to admit that he doesn't know and so saves face. All Thais know this about themselves, so they never ask for directions from another Thai - ever. Ask any foreigner living in Thailand - we find it so frustrating that our spouses won't ask directions, but we know why really.

The downside of saving face is that no-one ever complains, so people think that they are doing their job well, even if they are completely incompetent. This is a growing problem for Thailand in an age of increased international travel and higher expectations of value for money.

by Owen Jones



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BTS 1: Daddy's Hobby

BTS2: An Exciting Future

BTS3: Maya - Illusion
BTS4: The Lady in the Tree

BTS5: Stepping Stones

BTS6 - The Dream