Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Thai Smile

For many years Thailand has been affectionately known as the "Land of smiles" and to foreign tourists it's easy to see why.

No matter where you go or who you visit you will almost certainly be greeted with a warm smile, except, that is, by immigration officials!!!

In most Western countries, when you smile it means you're conveying a sense happiness or contentment. So, does this mean that all Thai's are happy or is there more to the Thai smile than meets the eye?

The Thai smile or "Yim" is complex function and can have many different meanings. It might convey pleasure or happiness, but, Thai's also smile when they feel negative emotions, such as confusion, anxiety and even anger!!!

Understandably, this can be confusing to foreign visitors and particularly those in the early stages of a relationship with a Thai person!!!! But, thankfully it does get easier to read the situation, the more time you spend in Thailand or in the company of Thai people.

In Thai culture, avoiding conflict, saving face and maintaning a social balance are fundamentally important. When you start to understand this aspect of the culture, you begin to see why Thai people smile even in situations that might be perceived as negative. If you try to understand the Thai smile, it will give you a fascinating insight into the Thai psyche.

I don't pretend to know all the subtleties of the Thai smile. However, in the following paragraphs I have listed some of my observations to try and give you a better idea of the true meaning behind the smile!!!

1) The "I'm very sorry for the mistake smile".

This is a very common occurence and you will often see it from service staff!!! For example, if you're in a restaurant and your waitress has brought you the wrong meal or when your airline loses your luggage!!!!

This can often cause anger and resentment among tourists who may think their problem isn't being taken seriously, when all the Thai person is trying to do, is apologise to you!!!!

2) The "I don't understand what you mean smile".

This often happens just after "I'm very sorry for the mistake" smile. For example your waitress has failed to understand what you have actually ordered for a second time!!!

It can further compound the sense of anger felt by the tourist who thinks they have made a very simple request and the Thai person is not making an effort to understand!!!!

But do remember that with this smile they are asking for your patience and understanding!!!!

3) The "please don't get angry with me smile".

For example, if you are in a bar and a Thai person bumps into to and spills your drink. They will quickly smile to express their regret and to offer you an apology.

However, this can easily be misinterpreted by Westerners. If you're in a pub in England and someone grins at you like a buffoon after spilling a drink down you're shirt, there is every liklihood that a fight will ensue!!!!

4) The "I'm incredibly shy or embarrassed smile".

This is a smile you will often see among children, youngsters or people who feel awkward in social sitautions.

School children might give you this smile if you ask them to stand up and talk in front of the class and I have also seen this smile when complimenting someone!!!!

This may also occur, for example, to take the awkwardness out of an embarassing situation!!!

If you fall over, a Thai person will smile, not because they are laughing at you, but to stop you from feeling silly!!!!

5) The "I'm going to fecking kill you smile".

You will see this smile, for example, if you have been in a road traffic accident and you argue with the Thai driver, causing them to lose face.

Thai people have incredible self-control and are extremely non-confrontational but even the most laid back person has their breaking point!!! Believe me, you don't want to be anywhere near a Thai person when they fly into an uncontrollable rage!!!

If you see this smile, you must leave quickly and not inflame the situation further!!!

6) The "I'm about to completely fleece you and you don't even realise smile"

This smile can be seen anywhere a financial transaction is going to take place and believe me you will pick up on this very quickly!!!

7) The "Mai Pen Rai or that's life smile".

This smile is very easy to understand and is used in tragic, difficult or trying circumstances.

The dog died, never mind, smile!!!! I've just contracted malaria, never mind, smile!!!! The wife is leaving and taking the house, never mind, smile.......I think you get the gyst of this one!!!!

An excellent website, on this very interesting topic, can be accessed by clicking the following link.......

http://absolutelybangkok.com/the-thai-smile/

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