The Power Of A Smile In The Land Of Smiles

The Power Of A Smile

In today’s post I start the delicate operation of morphing together my key blog subjects of Thailand, cross-culture and life improvement – personal development from east and west. On the eastern side of things this post very much has a heavy Thai contribution. On the western side of things I look at some cross – cultural differences in mindset between the United Kingdom and Thailand to do with the core subject. Finally the personal development side of things is all about being able to change one’s state of mind in an instant. The post looks at the power of a smile and the many ways a smile is used, both in the east and the west.

The Land Of Smiles

Phaw 1

The Thai Smile

If there is a nation of people with a natural ability to smile then it has to be the Thais. Thailand is not known so affectionately as the ” land of smiles” for nothing. In fact I am at times quite jealous of the way they produce such beaming and radiant smiles at will. Thai people are in my opinion a very attractive race of people and this is increased further due to such beautiful smiles. A smile is attractive and attracts and I would say the Thai smile is a major reason why people return to Thailand time and time again.

I am also envious of  people who can smile often and at nothing in particular. I mean who dictated that there had to be a cause to smile. In the west to continually smile and at nothing in particular would more than likely reserve you a place at the funny farm. Although the Thais smile often, there are usually different reasons behind the smile. I find the culture and mind-set of countries and areas intriguing and even the reasons why one might smile can be different from country to country.

Types Of Thai Smiles

Phaw 2

The Thai Smile

In the excellent book Watching The Thais by Tom Tuohy he points to another book in his first chapter when talking about the Thai Smile. The book is called Working with the Thais by Henry Holmes and SuchadaTangtongtavy and they identify 13 types of Thai smile.

1. Yim thang taa: The ‘I’m-so-happy-I’m-crying’ smile.
2. Yim thak thaai: The polite smile for someone you barely know.
3. Yim cheun chom: The ‘I-admire-you’ smile.
4. Feun Yim: The stiff smile, also known as the ‘I-should-laugh-at-thejoke-
though-it’s-not- funny’ smile.
5. Yim mee lessanai: The smile that masks something wicked in your
6. Yin yaw: The teasing, or ‘I-told-you-so’ smile.
7. Yim yae-yae: The ‘I-know-things-look-pretty-bad-but-there’s-no-point in-
crying-over-spilt- milk’ smile.
8. Yim sao: The sad smile.
9. Yim haeng: The dry smile, also known as the ‘I-know-I-owe-you-the money-
but-I-don’t- have-it’ smile.
10. Yim thak thaan: The ‘I-disagree-with-you’ smile, also known as the
‘You-can-go-ahead-and- propose-it-but-your-idea’s-no-good’ smile.
11. Yim cheua cheuan: The ‘I-am-the-winner’ smile, the smile given to a
losing competitor.
12. Yim soo: The ‘smile-in-the-face-of-an-impossible-struggle’ smile.
13. Yim mai awk: The ‘I’m trying-to-smile-but-can’t’ smile.

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Thai Smile Version Two

There Are Times In Thailand When A Smile Is Essential

  • When playing the waiting game in Thailand and things are not moving as quickly as you would like. Paper work, dotting I’s and crossing T’s takes time and can be a long drawn out process whatever the business at hand ….. Smile.
  • Been over-charged slightly, the food you ordered was not what you received and the over night luxury bus photo from Chiang Mai – Bangkok that was shown to you, was nothing like luxury when it actually appeared. In fact it was a down grade from comfortable….. Smile.
  • You have been on the road a long time and you stop off at a hotel for the evening. The hotel is nice, quiet and has a restaurant where you can get something to eat and all is well with the world. At midnight the Karaoke club (that you knew nothing about), that’s part of the hotel starts up and it comes at you for the next 3 hours at 100 decibel’s…. Smile.
  • Your Thai girlfriend or wife takes you to visit her Thai relatives and tells you that it won’t take long. Eight hours later you are still visiting, nodding and smiling. Yes, you guessed it…. Keep smiling.

On the serious side of things a smile in Thailand can far outweigh words and gets you out of all sorts of awkward situations. Sometimes words can get you in to trouble through a lack of understanding. The lack of understanding is not just from a language perspective, but even more so from a cultural perspective.

Thai Demon mask 

The Thais have a saying about looking all angry and serious and call it ”Wearing The Mask Of A Demon” – Sai Naa Yak –  (ใส่หน้ายักษ์)

It basically means that the faces of demons are fierce and this is of course to reflect their constant angry feelings. When a human is very serious or worse angry then this can be likened to the wearing of a demons mask. Of course when the anger part is over then the mask can be removed. The advice is try not wearing such a mask in the first place as it does not make you look good.


Before Removing The Mask

Do the English smile? 

In the bestseller The Importance Of Living by Lin Yutang a book about the noble art of leaving things undone the Chinese author had this to say about us English. ” How can I tell whether the English ever feel anything – joy, happiness, anger, satisfaction – when they are determined to look so glum on all occasions”.

To be honest I know we can appear a tad reserved and serious sometimes, but I had no idea we were that bad. To stand up and fight for our corner I would say the English are all smiles when being polite. On entering my gym there is at least 4 doors to open from entrance in to the gym until arriving at the changing room door. In between times I would have stood and opened the door for all the people behind me whilst smiling and who in turn smile back. As I am now bringing up the rear having been the last one in the queue (from opening the door for everyone), they will in turn now hold the door open for me as we once again exchange beaming smiles. If I or another English person should go through the door without seeing that somebody was there that should have had the door held open for them, then apologies will take place. Apologising and door holding can take quite a while you know, but can sure as hell eat in to your exercise time.

Meanwhile Back In Thailand: Does Culture Travel

Being a creature of habits of course you are inclined to take your culture with you as they say. Does culture travel well between one country and another? I would say some of it can, some merely tolerated by your hosts and some foreign cultures just point-blank don’t work at all out of native land.

Whenever I am in Chiang Mai I usually venture up to the Kad Suan Kaew shopping complex. That in itself is a miracle as normally I detest shopping malls, but there is always so much more going on than just shopping. They have tremendous hot cooked food sold and served there on weekends outside the shopping complex and last time there was an all day concert going on as well. Entrance to the complex itself is through a couple of swinging doors and often I can be found holding the door open for people. I think some of the Thai people think I work there and others scuttle through as quickly as possible wondering of my intentions I expect. I usually remember after a while to drop the door opening act.


Foot Massage At Kad Suan Kaew, Chiang Mai

On the other side of the coin I have found out that I am never very comfortable when somebody makes it a priority to open the door for me. In Hua Hin at the Hilton Hotel I used to use the gym there. On entrance to the hotel there is always a gentleman in uniform stood ready to receive you by opening the door and proudly saluting you. I guess I never thought that I deserved this much attention as I was never sure whether to smile, thank him or as the Thais do with me, just scuttle through. The worst one was always when he slightly leaves his post and is not by the door. This is my chance to get in with the least amount of fuss. As I hurry to the door, all of a sudden the gentleman comes out of nowhere and we are both rushing for the door. Of course he gets there first and delivers the usual excellently executed salute. It’s quite funny when I look back. The more I hurried the faster he went in order to be at the door before me. I must look at this situation as it probably say’s something about me not to want all this fuss and attention. The doorman of course is a fine professional and will open the door and salute at all costs.

The 10 Foot Tall Smile

Once again my example is a gym and I promise that I don’t spend all my time in them. The gym this time is in Chiang Mai and complete with fitness room and wonderful sunny swimming pool it’s probably my favourite fitness place in the whole of Thailand. The place is called the ‘The Hillside Fitness Center which is on the 4th floor of the Hillside Plaza & Condotel 4 on Huaykaew Road chiang Mai”  should anyone want to go there.

My work out was complete I had handed back my locker key and towel at reception and could leave the world of health knowing I had done my bit for another day. On the way to the lift you have a short walk down a corridor beforehand. I could have taken the stairs, but after all that running I figure I have earnt a ride in the lift. Anyway, along the walking towards the gym (that’s coming towards me), was a drop dead gorgeous Thai lady flashing a beaming great smile my way. Well I say my way as I did look behind me to see who was there that she might have been smiling at. On seeing nobody behind me I managed to shake myself out of the dumb with fly-catching mouth open look and reciprocate with my absolute best smile. I know what you are all thinking…. go and check that list for reasons she might have been smiling. To be quite honest a list of reasons did not matter as I found added zest and energy and marched off down the road about 10 foot tall. Normal height by the way is about 5 foot 10 inches. My state had been changed in an instant from that smile. By the way it was the number one smile on the Thai list of 13 smiles and not number two, the polite smile ha, ha.


The Hillside Fitness Center, Chiang Mai

There’s Much Information In A Smile

In the book Think Like A Genius by Todd Siler the author states when posing the question ” How can you tell in advance what will be satisfying? One deceptively simple way is to pay attention to smiles. A smile is much more than a sign of happiness. It’s an indicator of a person’s internal world, especially his or her moods”.

Todd Siler goes on to give some inside information on satisfaction and the art of non verbal communication. He say’s ” Satisfaction shows in a smile. and smiles tell all. A smile is one of the telltales of any information exchange”.

He advises observing people’s smiles at home, at work or out socialising and learn to identify the various types and the myriad moods conveyed. Todd Siler lists on page 176 of Think Like A Genius 6 hidden meanings to smiles.

The Patronising smile ( I’m not taking you seriously)

The interested smile (I get it …. I think)

The smug smile ( I’m smarter than you)

The know it all smile ( I already know what you’re going to say)

The sad smile ( I can’t find much to smile about)

The loving smile (I respect you and what you’re saying)

What Makes You Smile?

As well as being able to interpret the satisfactions or hidden meanings of others within their smiles you can also receive great insights in to your own smiles. Knowing what makes you smile and the reasons behind them is certainly a very valuable self discovery tool. I would even suggest capturing these moments in your journal instead of letting them slide by.

So one of the ways to change somebody’s state in an instant is to give them a smile. They will find it very difficult not to smile back. On the flip side, if you are wondering around with a face like a bull-dog chewing on a wasp and somebody smiles at you. I dare you not to smile back .


Thai Smile Version Three

Just Remember That

“You’re Never Fully Dressed without a Smile”
From the musical, Annie


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