Thai Smiles! Which one are you getting?

Thai Smiles: Which smile are you getting?

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.

: )

Author: Vern

I'm an American expat living in Thailand. I like to write informative pieces about life in, living in Thailand, including topics like: Thai People, Thai Culture, Nightlife, Technology, and I have published a lot of photographs, videos, and even books on Thailand that you can find at There are many photographs of Thailand here - feel free to share with attribution (a link back to the home page). All written content on this site by Vern Lovic. Contact me at Google+.

2 thoughts on “Thai Smiles! Which one are you getting?”

  1. Johnny, YES, exactly! I didn’t bring this up at all… Whomever gets upset in the argument looks the fool. It doesn’t happen often that Thais’ become upset during a simple disagreement, even if the farang provokes them. I’ve only been involved in a couple heated arguments in which I was the calm one… but, admittedly I knew just how to push the woman’s buttons and pushed them ALL. Oops, actually 2 women. I’ve also been the one to lose my cool a bit and thought I was the “Winner”. Turns out I was the loser – big loser.

    The one that remains calm and smiles gently and turns away is always the winner in Thai society.

    Once I was alone in a restaurant/bar eating and drinking some Chang. Two guys sat at a table 8 meters away. One began saying that he liked Bin Laden. He is friends with Bin Laden – yelling only at me. He asked where I was from – I told him. He got really beligerent, expecting me to go pop him and fight about it. I’m not nearly so easily provoked though… I let him make an ass out of himself and he couldn’t stand it anymore and left. The waitresses all wai’ed me and thanked me for not fighting over it. I was really the winner that time – in their eyes. In mine, mai pen rai – comments don’t usually get to me… action does.

  2. This relates to Buddhism.

    Bear in mind that someone arguing or raising their voice is a sure sign of them being narrow minded.

    In other words if you are too disagreeable then it is not worth their while to argue with you because they find it hard to accept you if you argue alot.

    So if you think you are winning the argument by being assertive, in fact the act of being aggressive is already considered much more offensive than any point of difference.

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