The Thais are, on the surface, very friendly. But to get beyond the surface seems harder in Thailand than in other places in South East Asia, and more complicated than any stereotype; and Peg and I honestly tried to break through that façade when we lived in Bangkok. All of our biases were based on our contact with our landlord, his family, and our neighbors. We saw them every day. They had names, most of them were educated and spoke English, but said the same thing every day. We could’ve been fooled but their English didn’t seem that limited, not as limited as the people in some of the other countries we visited.
We’ve explored a huge portion of the world and by and large experienced hospitality wherever we went. So we can compare a number of cultures, having had close contact with people in many places. But impressions are impressions; they are nothing more than that. Can’t impression be wrong, vary in one place from person to person, possibly misleading us? Of course. We experienced it; we were there; not just passing through, we lived and worked there. We had ample opportunity to get to know Thai people. There was one couple who took us on a weekend sightseeing jaunt (we had students); but I’ll be damned if our landlord, his family, our neighbors didn’t ask us the same questions when we moved out, the very same questions that they asked us when we first moved in. So, logically and somewhat puzzlingly, we have to surmise that our relationship with our landlord, his family, and our neighbors never went beyond the surface.
Maybe we carried this too far; hopefully so. It may have required a more complex analysis than we were capable of. Our sampling…our landlord, his family and our neighbors…may not have been enough; we wouldn’t want to come away from Thailand filled with false assumptions; regardless we couldn’t help but relate our impressions with the facts of Thai history.
Thailand was the only country in South East Asia that wasn’t taken over by a European power. If I’m not mistaken, the Japanese never really conquered the Thais either. Our impressions, we thought at the time, offered an explanation. Nothing seemed warmer than their welcome, though, because nothing could get beyond that smile; they never gave us more than necessary. They made accommodations. The Thais seemed to have made accommodations for everyone and to have profited from it. Accommodating? Yes. More than that? No. Whether it was for the Americans, Japanese, the Dutch, French, or the British, today or yesterday, it seemed to have worked for them throughout history.