OpEd: When farangs go native

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OpEd: When farangs go native

Post by buksida » Fri Feb 02, 2018 12:52 pm

An interesting take on it ...

WHEN FARANGS GO NATIVE
When in Rome … ” begins the truism about how to behave in foreign lands. We’ve all heard and understood this. It makes sense. When visiting another place, one will fit in and be loved by embracing the customs of those living there.

But what may start as an endearing and commendable effort – learning some language, meeting some social expectations – can become annoying to the very natives whose approval is sought. Behind one’s back, the whispers begin: You’ve gone native.

For Thais, navigating society’s ground rules is difficult enough. But those rules are learned from birth, enabling people to find their peg in the social hierarchy. As junior members slowly work their way up through age and position, the rituals become easier. To wai or receive a wai, to stoop when passing, to never stand over someone your senior – all of these teachings are ingrained.

Keen observers can instantly read who’s who from body language, without needing introductions to know everyone’s place in the pecking order.

Enter the foreigner, who upon arrival in the kingdom hears or reads about the many cultural dos and dont’s and substitutes hard cultural learning with a travel blog post titled “Top 10 Thailand Dos and Don’ts.”

Soon positive feedback is won for a few superficial gestures as novelty and intrigue leads to a false sense of being accepted.

Most Thais react warmly to efforts to learn the language and customs. It’s a great show-off to friends and family to derive much “face” from. From foreign ambassadors to engineers and teachers, newcomers who demonstrate they’ve learned some subtleties of custom are applauded.

Take “James,” a towering American hunk of upper middle-class upbringing with an Ivy League education. For all his good intentions, he looks awkward when he hunches over to wai someone clearly his junior. Or clumsy when he only offers one wai while everyone is trading them in multiple upon saying goodbye, because he thinks one should be enough.

After years in Thailand, indications of his Christian upbringing are replaced by meditation, traditional medicine and sunrise alms-giving at his local temple. His determined stride is replaced by a shuffled gait and opinionated philosophy become internal monologue no longer expressed to others.

Then there’s those who feast on the attention and just keep going. Like those with Viking spirit from the northern hemisphere who gain fame and fortune as acclaimed country singers. Or the loved-and-hated American YouTubers or droll Australian writers, all admirable for their Herculean efforts to be as Thai as possible.

Here’s where I’d urge restraint to: Lavish them with too much praise and risk seeing them “go native.”

Full story: http://www.khaosodenglish.com/featured/ ... go-native/
Who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed? - Hunter S Thompson

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Re: OpEd: When farangs go native

Post by STEVE G » Fri Feb 02, 2018 6:23 pm

An old English colleague of mine used to say, "When in Rome,........act like you're at 'ome"!

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Re: OpEd: When farangs go native

Post by Vital Spark » Fri Feb 02, 2018 7:17 pm

What a thoughtfully written article.

We spent an evening with one of our ex. Thai colleagues the other night, and we were talking about foreigners who speak Thai and what Thai people think about them. He said that most Thais love it when a foreigner tries to speak Thai, even more so when said foreigner doesn't speak it fluently and possibly gets the tones wrong here and there. He called it 'cute Thai'. I thought that was rather nice, and gives me a bit more confidence when attempting to speak the language.

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Re: OpEd: When farangs go native

Post by Spitfire » Fri Feb 02, 2018 7:37 pm

I cringe when foreigners try to be so Thai and totally mess-up their wai and do in the wrong way to the wrong person in the wrong situation, like old guys that do a wai to a waitress first when they walk in a restaurant or the old dude who does a wai to a bar girl etc.....big fail but they think they are being Mr. Cool....morons. You will never see that from the locals.

However, most Thais do not expect foreigners to get the wai right and are forgiven in general. There are so many different wai and I usually reserve it for my wife's mother and father/grandparents and few others. Many don't realise that if you get the wrong wai for the situation you can embarrass the Thai even if you don't notice it.

You are better off not doing a wai to anyone unless you really know your shit.

Edit - Typos
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Re: OpEd: When farangs go native

Post by oakdale160 » Fri Feb 02, 2018 9:45 pm

I agree with the comments on the rather sad phenomina of ex-pats trying to be thai-friendly by adopting the wai. My first week here my PA told me not to do that as Thai people think it is pathetic and inappropriate. greeting a bar girl or waitress in this way is in fact insulting to Thai culture.

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Re: OpEd: When farangs go native

Post by Vital Spark » Fri Feb 02, 2018 10:14 pm

Why, oh why, is the wai so complicated? It has always been a bit of a problem for me. I was told, early days, you don't need to wai anyone younger than you. OK, got it. When I started teaching at university a lot of the students would wai to me, and I nodded and smiled. Then I saw some of my Thai collegues returning wais to students. I asked my Thai colleague and she said it was OK to wai back to students. I had a bit of a problem - teaching bag in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other, so I continued my nod & smile. If my hands are empty, then I return with a slightly lower wai but I'm still worried that I do it too high or too low. After 20 odd years here I should have got the wai etiquette sussed - no chance... :?

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Re: OpEd: When farangs go native

Post by Bamboo Grove » Sat Feb 03, 2018 1:58 am

IMHO, it is all about the level of your hands. You can wai your students but keep your hands at the level of your chin or below that. With people of your age, unless in restaurants etc. keep them at the level of your nose, then you won't go wrong. If you want to wai monks, then put your hands in front of your nose and bow a bit.
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Re: OpEd: When farangs go native

Post by handdrummer » Sat Feb 03, 2018 7:30 am

Most of my Thai friends prefer to shake hands with me. They probably do it to save me and them from being embarrassed.

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Re: OpEd: When farangs go native

Post by STEVE G » Sat Feb 03, 2018 8:45 am

Vital Spark wrote:
Fri Feb 02, 2018 10:14 pm
Why, oh why, is the wai so complicated? It has always been a bit of a problem for me. I was told, early days, you don't need to wai anyone younger than you. OK, got it. When I started teaching at university a lot of the students would wai to me, and I nodded and smiled. Then I saw some of my Thai collegues returning wais to students. I asked my Thai colleague and she said it was OK to wai back to students. I had a bit of a problem - teaching bag in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other, so I continued my nod & smile. If my hands are empty, then I return with a slightly lower wai but I'm still worried that I do it too high or too low. After 20 odd years here I should have got the wai etiquette sussed - no chance... :?

VS
It's anachronistic nonsense VS, are you going to worry about who to curtsy to when you're back in the UK?

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Re: OpEd: When farangs go native

Post by 404cameljockey » Sat Feb 03, 2018 8:46 am

oakdale160 wrote:
Fri Feb 02, 2018 9:45 pm
I agree with the comments on the rather sad phenomina of ex-pats trying to be thai-friendly by adopting the wai. My first week here my PA told me not to do that as Thai people think it is pathetic and inappropriate. greeting a bar girl or waitress in this way is in fact insulting to Thai culture.
I feel it's appropriate to chin wai a bar or restaurant manager that you know from regular visits? Or am I wrong? Wait staff, of course not, the station is too low to permit it.

Is that article in fact about cultural appropriation? I sense a hint of negative tone (rather than just advice) from the author, who also seems to be knocking his own country's slow advancement to 'modernity'.
Last edited by 404cameljockey on Sat Feb 03, 2018 8:51 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: OpEd: When farangs go native

Post by 404cameljockey » Sat Feb 03, 2018 8:47 am

STEVE G wrote:
Fri Feb 02, 2018 6:23 pm
An old English colleague of mine used to say, "When in Rome,........act like you're at 'ome"!
Shouts and sticks an 'O' on the end of words? :)

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Re: OpEd: When farangs go native

Post by dtaai-maai » Sat Feb 03, 2018 12:11 pm

STEVE G wrote:
Sat Feb 03, 2018 8:45 am
Vital Spark wrote:
Fri Feb 02, 2018 10:14 pm
Why, oh why, is the wai so complicated? It has always been a bit of a problem for me. I was told, early days, you don't need to wai anyone younger than you. OK, got it. When I started teaching at university a lot of the students would wai to me, and I nodded and smiled. Then I saw some of my Thai collegues returning wais to students. I asked my Thai colleague and she said it was OK to wai back to students. I had a bit of a problem - teaching bag in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other, so I continued my nod & smile. If my hands are empty, then I return with a slightly lower wai but I'm still worried that I do it too high or too low. After 20 odd years here I should have got the wai etiquette sussed - no chance... :?

VS
It's anachronistic nonsense VS, are you going to worry about who to curtsy to when you're back in the UK?
Hmmm, is it? Bowing and curtsying in the UK, yes, the wai in Thailand? I don't think so, it's very much part of daily Thai life.

Yes, the English abroad can be cringe-worthy (substitute whatever nationality you like, really, but Brits are specialists!). Having said that, for ex-pats who choose to live, and perhaps work, in Thailand (I keep wanting to write 'here', forgetting I've been back in the UK for almost 9 months...), I can well understand them wanting to be able to greet Thais on their own terms, and to some degree speak with them in their own language.

Having said that, it's not something you can leap into as soon as you step off the plane. I think it can only be achieved if you observe and listen for at least several months. If you're lucky, especially if you work here (EDIT: oops, did it again!), you'll get to know, and perhaps become friendly with, an educated Thai who's lived and studied in the West (VS - I'm thinking of Tee), who will give you genuine and useful advice.

At work (uni teaching) and socially, I found the wai came fairly naturally, as did the distinction between acknowledging students, for example, and greeting an elderly (Thai) family member. Having said that, if I was dealing with the authorities in any form (immigration, police, tessaban, etc.), I would usually forget the wai and just smile pleasantly. As has been said elsewhere, I've seen too many people making themselves look foolish.

The bottom line is that however much Thai culture you assimilate, you will almost certainly never be assimilated into Thai culture. Try by all means, but don't try too hard. There's a line that shouldn't be crossed; it's drawn in shifting sand, and it's not the same for everyone, but if you use your nous and stay aware of the possibility of causing offence if you misstep, it can be a satisfying experience.
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Re: OpEd: When farangs go native

Post by Dannie Boy » Sat Feb 03, 2018 1:22 pm

I’ve never knowingly caused offense when I have done a wai to various Thais and reading between the lines of this thread, I must have got it wrong as much as I got it right - I am sure that most Thais accept that we may get it wrong, but the fact that we have tried is normally acceptable.

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Re: OpEd: When farangs go native

Post by STEVE G » Sat Feb 03, 2018 2:17 pm

404cameljockey wrote:
Sat Feb 03, 2018 8:47 am
STEVE G wrote:
Fri Feb 02, 2018 6:23 pm
An old English colleague of mine used to say, "When in Rome,........act like you're at 'ome"!
Shouts and sticks an 'O' on the end of words? :)
In the words of Blackadder, "No speako dago. I demand to see the British Ambassador, understand?".

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Re: OpEd: When farangs go native

Post by Big Boy » Sat Feb 03, 2018 4:18 pm

I met with a local dignitary earlier today. He gave everybody an individual wai. When he got to me, I started forming my hands for a wai (with what has been said in this thread already in my mind), when he extended his hand to shake mine - awkward moment avoided :D .
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