cow_rowing_.gifI had an irritating discussion with my Thai teacher a half hour ago that left my nerves a bit jangled.

I had corrected her pronunciation of the word “row” when used to mean the line that a group of objects forms or when used to mean to propel a boat with a paddle. She refused to believe that my pronunciation was correct. That she would not accept my authority but kept trying to correct me and tell me that row in those meanings rhymes with cow was fairly irritating. To her dismay I insisted on showing her the correct pronunciation in an authoritative online dictionary. She still refused to accept this correction to her pronunciation as valid. This seemed completely insane to me. I loose my sense of humor when someone stubbornly acts insanely stupid and refuses to acknowledge simple realities.

I put this question to the Thaivisa forum: is her behavior an isolated incident from an isolated individual, or do you recognize any pattern in her behavior that is particularly Thai? How would you react in such a situation? Do things like this happen with your Thai friends or girlfriends?

The thread provided much needed confirmation that my perceptions of a pattern were accurate. I was told that I should either adjust or leave Thailand. It was a relief to hear from others struggling with the same cultural differences.

Maintaining patience and love under conditions of huge cultural gaps is becoming a real problem for me. A real problem. Willful ignorance born from the need to save face is an abhorrent trait

There is a lot about this country that I love, but when my patience and understanding are strained, I do have my doubts about staying here. Today I was wondering if my ability to love and trust has been compromised during my 1.5 year stay here. The face thing leads to a host of problems, such as concealing or lying about emotions and actions. Not something I can accept while keeping a high enough level of respect to have a serious love relationship.

I wonder if those who have successful relationships here are just very different in attitudes and values from me, or if they have high quality mates.

It may be right that I’ve been mixing with the wrong people. I just wonder how to increase the likelihood of finding folks who were more inspiring. 10 Thai girlfriends, and I’ve loved them all, but after getting very intimate I now would not choose to remain long term with any of them. If there were some clubs or groups that attracted a certain sort, I’d go there, but I know of none.

Willful ignorance is an attack on what it means to be human. It is an insult that I can’t help but take a bit personally, even if it has nothing to do with me. I find it very difficult not to take offence, perhaps in the same way some are insulted by offensive racist comments that have nothing to do with them personally. It is just too far below our mutual human potential to be acceptable to me, morally. I can grit my teeth and shut up, but my patience is tried, my respect falls, and even my ability to love is affected. Yes, I have a lot of work to do.

I love Thailand, but living here is a matter of pros and cons. The pros are winning so far. I plan to build boats and sail out of here eventually.

The underlying motive for that behavior has mushroomed into various irritating or unfortunate actions in my friends and lovers. Occasionally. I don’t know how to make friends with that, or even if I should. I have a lot of doubts. Every culture has weak points and strong points. I’m not sure if the weak points here are so culturally widespread as to make deep intimacy with a Thai highly unlikely for me.

One fellow told me that her behavior shouldn’t be viewed as a culture difference, but that it is simply childlike behavior. I agree, and yet it is behavior many of us have noticed here. Pregnant pause.

Another intimacy stopper is the need to diffuse a situation instead of delving deeper into it is very strong in this culture. I do appreciate letting things go, but saying “whatever” any time there is any potential for conflict erases the possibility to communicate. I can’t get past that either. I’m starting to whine, aren’t I?

Today my Thai teacher tried to save face by asking me what I wanted her to say or do, and she just did it. As if she wasn’t really admitting to needing to know how to correct her pronunciation, but was just humouring me, and would do anything (other than genuinely of her own volition admit to the need to learn) to change the subject. Ya, sure she lost face and despite her ploy she knew it. But the situation made it harder for us to trust each other. She learned she can’t trust me to respect her need for face, and I learned I can’t trust her to be forthright about simple matters.

Prior to our new relationship of teacher student, we had been lovers for a month or two. She has a new boyfriend now, and we seem both quite comfortable with just being friends now, so I genuinely don’t see our previous relationship as lovers having any negative effect on our relations. My point is that if being in the position of teaching me THAI makes it impossible for her to listen to me trying to help her with her ENGLISH, even though we are friends, then this level of pride is very problematic to me and holds me back from wanting to be emotionally close. I wonder about how much closeness is possible with those for whom face is more important than truth.

At this point I’m of the opinion that some cultural differences are not merely different and equally valid ways to organize perceptions and actions. Some cultural attitudes and practices are inherently better or worse than others. For instance, any attitude that is generally considered childish and immature is inferior to one that is generally considered as very mature. Compassionate and understanding is superior to selfish and blind to anything but ones own view.

A recent post talked about a higher than developed country average of incest in some parts of Thailand. Cultural attitudes are not merely different and equal, but some average cultural attitudes can be viewed through the lens of developmental psychology, which recognizes a pattern of developmental changes in perception that are cross cultural in their pattern of change from one view to another.

The value of face is something I have to adapt to here, but for me it remains a barrier to intimacy. I really wonder if the importance of face and the multitude of social implications (such as the poor education system and the lack of emphasis on logic and creativity) precludes a deep intimacy. I wonder if we just learn to compromise so much, we forget what deep intimacy once meant to us. I appreciate good sex, a warm body to hold, shared laughter and just sharing the same space. But intimacy used to mean a lot more to me than that. It used to mean being inspired by and inspiring my mate. It used to mean being able to respectfully share any detail about anything. That has never happened to me here, and that often seems like too great a loss.

I once was in love with a Thai woman, whom I had been with for 6 months. The whole time I was with her she had been lying to me about her true feelings for me. I came to see her as living her life through a mask. She eventually told me that she has no one in her life that she bears all of her soul to – not even her dear sister. Her words generally come from her mask, not from a cohesive whole ego that some call the heart.

Several other Thais that I met both before and after dating this woman have told me that Thais often speak from a mask. One 19 year old high-so college girl once explicitly warned me very specifically about this. She claimed to be exempt from the import of her warning, but I later learned from a girlfriend that she had been dissing me to my girlfriend, while being all friendly faces to me. She was telling my GF that I was not an interesting man because my dress was out of date and I didn’t obviously appear to have much money.

The importance of face, and the many implications of face are aspects of Thai culture that have made intimacy with the Thais I’ve known difficult. I can’t fully adapt to face taking precedence over truth in communication and maintain deep intimacy.

Sigh, I guess there is nothing for it but to try to let such situations go.

Sometimes the refusal to be honest about a simple issue, like why the person doesn’t want to eat at a certain restaurant and whether or not that person has ever eaten there before, can just be too much for me. Is it really too much to expect to able to be listened to and taken seriously and get a straight answer to a simple and benign question? I find it extremely disrespectful to be lied to and ignored, and can’t come to grips with the fact that I have to put up with extremely childish and selfish behavior in order to allow someone to save face. It is, at this point, often beyond me to lower my expectations to such pathetic standards. I really don’t know what else there is to do but lower my expectations though, so I do. This sometimes makes me seriously question if being here is leading to me losing important values. I don’t want to live a life saying “may pen rai”. I don’t want to live a life of seriously compromised interpersonal standards.