Thailand is known as a country of smile. People look happy and smile even if the situation doesn’t look that nice to us. The culture is totally different than what we know from the western, developed countries. Live goes slower, people are (usually) more helpful and living simpler lives.
The culture is too complex topic to say everything in one post. This time I’ll focus on smile. The mimicry and emotion.
Smile is known all over the world. But do we know that this simple thing may mean totally different things in different countries? We, meaning so called western world, smile when we are happy. We can also imitate, but it doesn’t count – it just looks falsely.
In Thailand (and some other countries of Southern-East Asia) smile is much more.
In Gesteland’s book (which I mentioned in my previous post: the author tells the story which may explain it quite well. He tells about time when he lived in some south-eastern Asian country (sorry, I don’t remember which one now) with his wife. He was already a trainer in cultural topics and were supposed to be quite aware. But it is a practice which teaches us most. In short time the author lost both of his parents – they died one after each other within weeks. He flew to the US for funerals and spending time with his family. After more than a month he came back to his Asian home. They had a housekeeper. She asked once why he wasn’t home for so long time. It was tough time for him so he just said that his father died and then his mother died and he were at the funerals. He was emotional saying this. It was too much for the girl. She started laughing. He didn’t know what was going on and why she loughed at such horrible things. But this was exactly the behaviour he should expect. Showing negative emotions is inproper there. He should not tell that and she didn’t know how to behave. It’s impossible to observe in Europe.
The background for this behaviour is loosing a face concept. Row, raised voice, beeing week or cause someone’s anger or sadness means loosing a face – for both sides – the person who caused it and interlocutor. So in such case, when you are sad or angry, it’s just easier to laugh and smile. And that’s what many people do.
When you spend a lot of time in such culture you just soak. Here is my story. One day me and my friend decided to lend a scooter and have a ride. The problem was that neither of us could drive a scooter. We had some short, dry lesson and decided to start our adventure. It wasn’t a good idea and we knew it right after 2 meters. Instead of turning left we crossed 3 lines of the city’s ring and and we fell after a collision with the curb. We were lucky. It was busy street and no car hit us. We were battered, but we didn’t end up in the river 2 meters further. We started laughing. It was our answer, after two weeks spend in the country of smile, for that traumatic event. The worker in the rental came to us, laughing too, but also checking if we are OK, worried. The only people with shocked faces were tourists. We were laughing, but then it came to negotiations. We had to pay for damages. The women, who was the real owner, came, was nice, but also adamant. We knew she knows we are tourists and she can earn on this. We tried to be nice, expain and negotiate. But than there was one short moment. My voice changed, just for a second, before I realized my instincts from Europe took power. And it was the end. In that second all negotiations were over. We both lost our faces.
In business, as well as in our private lives, it’s important to know and remember. Not only during travels, but also if we are in our own country, dealing with people from different culture. They may not know. But even if they know it’s just nicer and easier if both sides respect each other. So… smile! :)