Critical – Yes, sir!

This post has been brewing for awhile, and I’m hesitant to write it because it IS critical of the Asian approach to many things. After living here for nearly 9 months, though, I have some freedom to question and even criticize. This isn’t supposed to be the end-all or be-all in explaining Thai thinking, but it touches on a thought-process that affects foreigners more often than natives.

Critical Thinking

Asian cultures put a very high value on respect and honor.

Americans put a high value on moving forward and development.

Parents laud the ways  that Thais respect and support their elders, and I do understand that. When in a position of authority, there is great value in not constantly being questioned. There is also great weakness in this stance.

A few months ago, on my trip back to Bangkok from Laos, I met someone in the van on the way to the train station. We got along, and both had packed some dinner and drinks for the ride home. Thus, we agreed to meet in his car, have the table set up at one of the benches and shared “dinner”. This took place at about 7 pm. We were still chatting at 8 pm, about the time the attendants begin making up the beds and socializing dwindles. Since neither of us was that tired, he was on the second-bunk (i.e. not going up until actually sleeping) and there were plenty of empty seats to spare, we continued talking about our lives as Expats. The attendant came by and asked us what we were doing, “Just talking.”

“It’s bedtime.”

“Yes, but we’re not tired.”

“I make your bed. You go to sleep at next stop.”

At the next stop, not wanting to incur her wrath, I started making my way back to my own car.

When I met the attendant in the doorway, she demanded to know where I was going.

“My car.”

“Your car is not this one?!”


“Why were you here?”

“To talk to my friend.”

“But this is not your car?!”

“No, good-night.”

It was humorous, although annoying, at the time, but it wasn’t until a few months had passed that I could understand why she was so…bossy.

Critical thinking. In her mind, passengers stay in their own cars, they do not wander between cars. This is a time for travel, not socialization. The fact that I wanted to do what the other passengers rarely did made no sense to her, because This is The The Way You Do It is as perfectly accepted explanation for nearly everything in Thailand.

I didn’t break any rules, I didn’t hurt anyone, or even cause trouble. I simply had not done the expected thing, and therefore inadvertently bothered her mental state.

Why? Is not asked or discussed. If there is a way to do things, if there is a norm – you follow it if at all possible.

White skin is beautiful.

“This is what Thais believe: White skin is Beautiful.”

Wash twice a day.


“You will be healthier.”

“But I am already as healthy as you.”

“You must wash twice a day.”

I don’t want rice.

“The meal comes with rice.”

“I don’t like rice.”

“But this is served with rice.”

I disagree with my boss.

“You must do as he suggests.”

“But it doesn’t work for me.”

“He is the boss.”

If it is valued, if there is a pattern, if there is a precedent – it will be followed. If you don’t like the approach, and are very daring, you will complain – but rarely will there be a change in methods.

Sometimes I feel suffocated.


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