02 May 2012

Defining "Thai Inapropro" in Sisaket: One Fake Bonfire At a Time

We've all been wondering about it but never knew the true answer. What in the world is the difference between a fan and a geek? These two simple words that have completely different meanings in English hold a heavy significance when it comes to love. Yes, I did just say love. When my three CIEE comrades and I were in Sisaket teaching English to 45 village kids near the Cambodian border, we got a little closer to understanding the definition of "fan" and "geek." Love in Thailand gets a little complicated when someone can have one or multiple "geeks".  These can range from a best friend or love interest yet are not enough to be a "fan." However, a "fan" is someone of the opposite sex who a person can be dating, and a person can have one or more fans. A little confusing right? One thing that we learned that baffled us American students is that Thais do not discuss relationships with their friends, even their closest friends and mostly keep their love life to themselves. You're probably wondering how this all relates to development and globalization in Thailand and I promise they do. Just hear me out.
We had a couple of late night bonfire chats (well, there was no bonfire because it's already blazing hot in Thailand) sitting together or squatting together, in our Thai friends' case, where we openly discussed the cultural differences and social customs between Thailand and America.  As American students unfamiliar with all Thai social customs, we would nonchalantly do something during the day while teaching English that unbeknownst to us was simply: "Thai inapropriate." Those two words became a slang term for us over the two weeks where we began to question all of our actions that could be considered "Thai inapropro." For example, casually tossing something, in our case colored pencils to a group of Thai students sitting on the floor, is considered rude or disrespectful to that individual(s). Through our mistakes, we learned one cannot step over food, one cannot touch the shoulder of an elder, one should "wai" (Thai bow where palms are pressed together near the chin) all things you kill - even cockroaches, and one should always say "P," to anyone older than you which is a sign of respect (even if they are your close friend). During the camp, when there were disagreements with our superiors, the four of us CIEE students openly vented and discussed our feelings and opinions but the other four Thai students would say very little and mask their thoughts even though we knew it equally frustrated them. Yet, it's very common for Thai people to not be confrontational or disrespectful to their elders, even if it means biting your own tongue. You're wondering, what about freedom of speech and expression? It's a little bit more rigid here in Thailand. However, globalization and the rapid influx of tourism in Thailand are starting to change some of these traditional customs. It was only recently that Thailand allowed Facebook in the country.
It was interesting to hear about these cultural differences from our Thai friends in terms of the way Thailand is developing as a country. They are the future generation of leaders in their country. They are presently balancing the impacts that development has had in their country with cultural traditions that they have all grown up knowing. 
Rachel Pricer
University of Richmond

1 comment:

Karen said...

Please let us not forget some of the immense values of 'biting your tongue': patience and humility, which are two essentials in the practice of mindfulness.
We must be careful not to over-value 'our ways' of openness, or think speaking one's mind is better than not to do so.
I am not saying how to conduct yourself, I am just shining light on other perspectives on development.