I thought commenting on this part of Thai culture might
be appropriate considering the other topics on the blog
right now and the amount of email I’m getting in response
to the “Thai face” issue…
Thais’ smile for a LOT of reasons. It might be said that
they smile for ANY reason at all. I’ve seen it in a lot of
When a Thai smiles… When you’re arguing for instance.
It does NOT mean that he/she thinks you are correct
and is acquiescing to your point of view. It also doesn’t
mean that the Thai person is laughing at you. It can be
really strange to be arguing with someone and they just
What do we do when that happens? Sometimes I used
to think they were giving in – and accepting my point of
view as “right”. And sometimes, I thought they were
being condescending and laughing at me.
It’s really tough to say.
Thais’ will usually give in when faced with an argument.
Confrontation is not something they enjoy. They avoid it
at all costs and they may just try to ignore you if you
attempt to bring them into a discussion about differing
opinions on something.
In private they will talk about it with other Thais’ and
maybe never have another word with you about it again.
You, thinking the issue resolved, go on to believe that
you were right or that the Thai person is OK with what
But, truth is – the Thai was not OK with it.
A Thai smile doesn’t mean what you think it means
much of the time. The problem is that foreigners try
to catalog Thai smiles into the few possibilities that
exist in the western mind, and go about life…
The Thais’ have a host of reasons for smiling, not all
of them positive.
When I first started dating my g/f here I was consistently getting the nicest smiles. These were
genuine smiles that come from the heart… It’s hard for foreigners (farang) to disguise smiles, as our smiles are in direct relationship with what we are feeling. We
cannot separate them and give a fake smile that is convincing. Most of us. Those that CAN do it in western society are very good at the game and can
fool nearly everyone because it’s such a rare trick.
Here in Thailand EVERYONE is a master of this game. The smile and feeling in your heart are not connected. In addition, there is NO cognitive dissonance within a Thai person that exhibits a smile different from what the person is thinking inside.
Lately with my girlfriend, as the relationship gets a little more “mature” – which really means, it begins to downgrade from fluff to reality… and I start farting in front of her and swearing unique combinations of words in traffic and such… I’ve noticed that she is smiling still. These are smiles that most would not detect as different… but, having known her for 2 years I can see a difference in the original smiles and these smiles.
Though the Thai smile can be said to have many, many, MANY meanings – and that they smile for EVERYTHING one might think that there are different smiles for each feeling or thought…
There are only a couple smiles in their whole repertoire (sp?). Physically only a couple. Emotionally, there is the whole gamut – maybe 100+. Physically I’m going to guess my g/f has about 4.
Here is a short list of things that I’ve see Thais’ smiling for:
Unwilling to admit mistake
If caught staring
In middle of argument
If VERY upset
I’m not sure that they smile when they’re killing someone, but if they are killing over som tam, then it’s a distinct possibility. And a very real one.