I think a serious basic flaw of Thailand is the “losing face” obsession, which is weaved into the very fabric of Thai life and culture….from birth to death… top to bottom. Nobody talks about it. I am aware that I actually know very little about it. So I will appreciate your comments/experiences on this subject.
Near as I can tell, it works like this. If something goes wrong or something isn’t right….anyone who is held as responsible…guilty or not… loses face. Anyone who is embarrassed or shown up loses which is evidently a pretty serious business to khun Thai. Another unfortunate feature of losing face is that it also appears to be permanent and irredeemable
For example, if you make an issue of there being no fire exits and safety features in a bar ..to the person responsible… they lose face and will hate you, maybe even seriously enough to want to hurt you if you persist in your criticisms. If you tell a staff underling (who is not responsible) they will never… ever!… even dream of telling their superior…because he will lose face and there will be hell to pay…. If the food sucks in restaurant don’t bother to complain to the waitperson (who will never ask you how you like your meal) …they’ll never tell anyone because the cook/owner can’t lose face. Check bin and don’t go back. Thai people don’t beep their horns (thank heavens!) because the driver being beeped at loses face…and it may provoke confrontation and/or violence. It’s likely a good idea if you don’t beep as well.
Unwalkable sidewalks? The head of sidewalk maintenance will lose face. Tiptoe thru the tulips. The blockade at the airport?…Nobody held to account because they’d lose face.
Most farang are aware (if somewhat bemused) that even a Thai prostitute the lowest of the lo-so from the Thai perspective will abandon a promising farang forever perhaps even do him violence.. if he makes her lose face. And the losing face thing.. is waaay ingrained into the class/caste system….probably more than we farang can imagine.
When it comes to serious government/bureaucratic decisions…spending billions on a highway to nowhere for example….a poorly built airport they don’t need…or tourist-hostile immigration laws… its very difficult to reverse, correct and remedy these costly bad decisions because the guys at the top…who made them.. can’t lose face. So the highway to nowhere…which everybody knows was a bad idea.. gets half-built…until it runs out of money…and another crumbling, useless half-assed project blights the landscapeâ€¦.and nobody loses face.
Farang…or anybody?…are helpless to change this.
I love and live in Thailand. I wouldn’t trade it’s lax attitude and lack of common sense for even one of the zoning and police regulations I escaped from in the West… where some touch-hole with a tape measure or a badge.. and a rule-book… reads everybody the riot act.
I’ll take the flaws. But its healthy and wise to be aware of them….and act accordingly. You’ve got to be observant, self-reliant and mindful…I always look four ways (and up and down) before crossing a one-way street. In a place where nobody will take care of you… you must take care of yourself.
Hey maybe I’m full of shit but please be generous and gentle in what you say about this essay. I don’t want to lose face.