- Learn each others language
The learning of each others language is essential for a deeper understanding in the relationship. You might say well only one of us needs to learn the other’s language, not both of us. Obviously for the country you choose to live in, then that should definitely be the main language.
However say you lived in the UK, but visit the family in Thailand often, is the English national just going to sit there smiling and nodding occasionally. Feeling like a total outcast is no way to feel. Having an understanding and being able to join in, gives one a fantastic feeling. Later as your children grow up and pass you by, being bi-lingual. It can of course become quite embarrassing still repeating the 10 Thai words you have learnt over the last 20 years.
You could of course as an English national rationalise and come out with the usual mantra of English being the main language and everyone must speak it, whatever country I am in. Cross cultural relationships need a deeper understanding and adequate proficiency in each others language should be a priority. Understanding the language is the gateway to a deeper understanding of the country and it’s culture.
Is it easy, no. (but it’s not as hard as you think either) .Is it worth it, massively.
In later posts we will look at the ”how to” learn the language more, this post has been more concerned with the ”why to”.
- Avoid Personal Criticism
As a Westerner you will need to be very careful with any form of criticism constructed or otherwise if directed at a Thai. In fact there is no such thing as constructed criticism to a Thai it is all just criticism. In Thailand face to face criticism can be determined as a type of violent behaviour, it can be seen as very ill-mannered with intention to offend. So avoid criticism where ever humanly possible.
If you find that it is absolutely unavoidable and you must get your point across then there is a way to do it and keep your relationship in good condition, but it must be done very carefully.
- A golden rule is talk to her when you are calm and not when you are angry. Have full control of your emotions. Trying to carry out this when cay roon (ใจร้อน) hot hearted is a recipe for disaster.
- Hit the balance button right. By that I mean give out about 100 percent praise to 10 percent criticism
- You can be free and easy with your praise, but be indirect with your small percentage of criticism. Perhaps offering it more in a suggestions manner , as in perhaps we could do this.
- Finally at the end perhaps have a small gift for her. A by the way dear (thii rak) (ที่รัก) I got you this.
If you think sod all this I will let her know what’s what and lay down the law. Then you are in for one long uphill struggle, much silence and complete avoidance from her.
Anybody would think you have to handle the situation with the same care and precision of someone in bomb disposal. You do. Have I always got this right. Absolutely not. Which is why I prefer the next tip. Whenever I can heed the advice of the next tip I have no need for this one.
Criticise and the gloves could be on
- Have a good few ”Mai Pen Rai ” moments
There are of course times when disagreements occur in any relationship, but it is well worth having as many ”Mai pen rai” moments (in a Thai/Western relationship) about the one’s that you can let go of, as you can.
Mai Pen Rai (ไม่เป็นไร) has several meanings (It doesn’t matter, That’s all right, Not at all, it’s nothing, It doesn’t make any difference, your welcome and never mind ! forget it.
For as many situations as you can I suggest you run” it doesn’t matter” and ”forget it” by yourself .
If it really is something that can be overlooked why bother with bringing it up in the first place and disrupting harmony. It may also be welcomed in the aging process by dismissing potential stressful situations.
Mai pen rai can be frustrating to Westerners at times, but can also be used to your advantage. I would suggest using when ever you can.
A ”Mai pen rai ” situation can now come in to play
- Big smile and have fun
I know it’s a well trotted out cliché that Thais smile a lot, but for what ever the reason it’s not a bad philosophy to have. In the West we smile normally to show amusement, but in many situations it would be inappropriate for a Westerner to smile. There are many reasons behind the Thai smile and amusement is amongst them, but so to is uneasy situations, to show embarrassment, to thank someone. The smile can also be used in exchange for words, so basically smile your way out of anything.
Another well-worn cliché is Thais love to have fun, but it is one to bear in mind. You mean acting like a bafoon occasionally ….. well why not. I know one man married to a Thai lady who is just constantly joking around and has his Thai wife in stitches laughing. She is also adept at handing out a clip around the ear if he has failed to take his responsibilities seriously enough, but the rest of the time is filled with his larking about and entertaining her.
The smiling part is a mine field of mis-understandings between Westerners and Thais. The Thai cannot work out why the Westerner does not do it more and the Westerner thinks the Thai smiles at inappropriate moments. For instance
I took my wife to France for a visit, but on the way back through customs she was carrying a bag of nuts that you crack open and eat. The customs officer looked over our passports and cracked open a couple of these nuts whilst looking at my wife. This obviously made my wife feel uneasy as she looked around at everyone laughing and smiling in her own Thai way. I thought ”oh no please don’t do that” as it obviously annoyed the customs officer . He decided to have us taken to a separate part where another member cracked open the rest of the nuts one by one. I did some explaining to my wife afterwards ”on what not to do at customs” in a very nice way of course, even with steam coming out of my ears. I wanted to present the officer with a book on Thai culture shock, but thought better of it.
A big smile works a treat
- Give each other space
This could be a tip for any relationship, but giving each other time and space is I feel essential. My wife has time with her friends and to pursue her separate interests and leaves me to do the same.
There is one bloke in my area married to a Thai lady who feels the need to phone her and find out where she is every 10 minutes. I must admit she is always very calm about this to him over the phone. However complains of feeling like being treated in a child -like way,when off of the phone . I know from talking with her that this is becoming a real problem in their relationship. I don’t mean ringing up to say are you ok, do you need anything I mean where are you and what are you doing.
I suppose this is a double ended sword where a happy medium needs to be found on behalf of both parties
Problem one = Too much control and not enough freedom
Problem Two = Too much freedom and not enough control
except substitute the word control for the word togetherness perhaps.
Getting enough space
- Agreement on issues essential
In a Thai/Western relationship there are essential issues to come to an agreement on. By coming to agreement I mean discussing and coming to decisions on important topics. To be honest this is of course the general rule in most relationships. However I was mostly thinking about the differences in the cultures, the different ways and traditions. This article does not even begin to look at the important issues of bringing up children in a cross cultural relationship between the Thai and the Westerner. That is a separate issue all by itself I believe.
There will be differences in lots of categories, but the main thing is to try to get them sorted out early on in the relationship. A constant bickering over the same issues will do you or your relationship no good at all.
What could some of the important topics be…….
- Which country you live in
- Beliefs and values
- Bringing up children
- Family (parents)
- Money and Support
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Recommended Books On Cross Cultural Relationships
- The Cultural Detective” by Christopher G. Moore can be found here. Analysing Thai Culture appears to be a never-ending job, but this book will give you great insights.
- Thailand Fever full of cultural secrets that are key to successful Thai/Western relationships. In Thai and English, so you and your partner can read it.
Recommended Book On Thai Courtship And The Language Of Love
- Sex Talk a brilliant book full of answers to questions on Thai courtship, romance and full of language and culture. A simply fantastic book.