During the Midservice training, a professor, who has lived in Thailand 56 years, came to talk about the differences between Thai and American culture. He addressed 5 points the Peace Corps Thailand volunteers should be aware of while living here. To give you back in America a better understanding of what I go through on a daily basis, I have decided to post a summary of his notes.*
1. Thais avoid confrontation at all costs. They don’t show anger or displeasure at all. The downside of this is that they gossip, write anonymous letters, and kick the dog (while cursing it for being whatever trait they are upset about in a person, i.e. stupid, slow, disrespectful). They also avoid any kind of criticism. This avoidance may result in inappropriate giggling, walking away, getting ill and needing to leave.
2. Thais avoid emotional attachment. This is rooted in Buddhism where they are advised to avoid craving and attachment. They don’t value commitment, engagement, involvement and attachment. Having fun, making fun a part of every activity, is a way to avoid attachment.
3. The society is both patriarchal and hierarchal. Thais are not just individuals. They are part of a hierarchy, which you may or may not be aware of. Status is related to position in the family, position at work, among others. The hierarchy is always there and score is kept. You are expected to return favors. You are expected to be loyal, non-critical, friendly, non-threatening, engage in small talk, and relationship building. Relationships with parents are based on respect, not so much on just love.
The patriarchy shows itself most starkly with sexual harassment and the open display of nude women. Prior to 1997 there was no Thai word for sexual harassment, thus no concept.
4. Karma, the result of past thoughts and actions, rules over present thoughts and actions. Therefore, there is acceptance of one’s position in this life.
5. Gratitude is required. There is a life-long debt to parents. Men repay by becoming monks (for a brief period of time). Women repay by sending money, never arguing, obedience, and loyalty.
The core values for Americans are:
rule of law
*This summary is courtesy of my friend Joan
I have had my struggles with each of the qualities during my time here. Sometimes I think “I am just too German!” I have learned that neither way is right or wrong, but is how we deal with the differences that matters.