Thai Culture and Thai Women
If one is considering marrying a Thai woman, some understanding of Thai culture and their role in Thai society is extremely beneficial. Before marrying a Thai woman it is important to understand the position of Thai women in society and her potential motives for marrying you. While most Thai women will marry you for the same reason you are marrying her, and make fabulously attentive and loving wives, there are cultural differences that one should know about.
Thai Women in Modern Thai Society
When considering marrying a Thai woman, one should first make oneself aware of the role of Thai women in society, and how they expect both you and them to behave. Thailand is fundamentally a Buddhist society, the women are regarded as inferior to the men, and they do not have the same rights or position in society as men do – including their husbands.
Although many changes are occurring within Thai social structures due to modernisation, many of the old traits remain. Thai women cannot be expected to act and participate in society in the same way a western woman would. In some cases, men marrying a Thai woman are disappointed regarding the lack of participation in their western-style society. However, this can be easily explained by a simple difference in cultural upbringing and understanding of one’s role in society.
Problems start when western and traditional eastern cultures meet; the first problem is in the way that men and women regard each other. For example, even today, sex before marriage is frowned upon in Thailand, and is not a normal occurrence. In Thailand, a young couple wants each other to be the first for each other when they marry; the male wants to be the first man for his girlfriend, while the female wants to be the last woman for her boyfriend. This has been the cultural norm in Thailand, but this is changing as Thailand becomes exposed to western cultural exports of movies, television and media.
“Western and Eastern Cultures are Not the Same”
In Thai society, men and women are not traditionally used to displaying acts of affection in public, such as kissing or even holding hands. It is generally not acceptable for Thai boys and girls to stay overnight together unless they are with others in a group. However, likely because of exposure to western TV and movies and also the Internet, these norms are being broken, and young Thais now openly show those signs of affection that are commonplace in the west. This is usually limited to the occasional quick hug and the holding of hands.
The Thai mindset is that one is considered middle aged and ‘old’ when they reach the age of 30 and above. Women consider themselves old when they reach 30 and will start to worry that their chances of finding a partner will be near impossible, the older they become.
Western Men are Millionaires
Most Thai women believe in one way or another that western men are rich. This misunderstanding often relates to the average earnings of a westerner compared with the average Thai male. In some cases the woman will agree to the marriage simply for the money, and such marriages are certainly not made in heaven. They often end in tears and the loss of a great deal of cash by the man. In many cases, those marriages involve a much younger Thai woman who motives are less than genuine.
Although there may be language barriers and some differences in cultural behaviours and understandings, one should be able to trust their own instincts. Thai women fall in love with western men just as they do with young people from their own country. At times, the initial attraction might have been those dreams of an idealistic lifestyle that comes from your perceived wealth, that can quickly be overcome with some genuine understanding of each other’s position.
Most westerners fail to understand the family ties of Thai women. Thai family structure is significantly different from the west and this cultural understanding is indoctrinated from birth. The social welfare system in Thailand is mostly non existent. Therefore families must care for their own family members. The same system has been used for generations.
The parents have children in the hope that these children will one day care for them when they are in old age. They will do everything possible for the development of these children in the hope that they can achieve more successful lives and therefore be more financially secure to care for their family. Grandparents will take care of the children so that they younger parents can work and attain as much income as possible, for as long as possible. They will get their turn to take care of children when they are grandparents.
“Family is Everything in Thai Culture”
Each month, the parents will send money home for the grandparents to care for themselves and the children. As the child grow and the parents age, the cycle is repeated over and over. In the past, the parents would takeover the family business / farm in older age, therefore maintaining the cycle. With the advent of access to western media, this cycle is now under threat. Younger people are no longer satisfied with living in rural areas. Bangkok and other big cities (both in and outside of Thailand) are now the attraction and the expectation.
For a young woman raised in this environment, family is the first and last priority. Family is everything and their prime motivation is to care for their family members as much as possible. Westerners marrying into this culture must accept that this is the cultural environment she was raised in and it cannot be easily broken. If she is genuine in being in a cross cultural relationship, she will be prepared to compromise; as should her western partner. Compromise is not the same as foregoing her culture altogether. A level of understanding from both parties is required. Any attempt to force a Thai woman to walk away from her own cultural beliefs and upbringing will ultimately fail. The conditioning is strong and to them, logical.
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The Conundrum of Sin Sod
The dowry, or sin sod, is the most contentious part of any Thai – western relationship. To a Thai, it is an integral part of Thai culture and how future relationships are committed to by both parties. To a westerner, negotiating and paying for one’s own wife is the most insulting thing one could ever imagine being forced to endure. If that is not bad enough, the display at the wedding ceremony and the way the money is displayed, counted and collected equates to a family literally selling their own daughter.
The Thai understanding is that it is intended as a gesture of honour to the Thai bride’s family for bringing her up well. The dowry also signifies that the groom is able to look after his bride financially. Dependant upon one’s understanding, the amount paid reflects the ‘quality’ of woman that is about to be married. The average dowry one would be requested to pay for an educated young woman would from $3,000 – $10,000, though some ask for up to $30,000 and more. More than $10,000 for a university educated Thai bride is excessive; apparently. Those who have been married before or have children (in or out of wedlock) attract a much lower dowry.
“Sin Sod Can Create Cultural Tensions”
The dowry is today generally no more than a symbolic indication of the wealth of the groom, and may be returned in full, or sometimes in part, after the wedding. The idea of placing an absolute value on one’s own daughter is highly offensive to all westerners. The Idea of negotiating with parents over the numbers is even more upsetting for a westerner. Sin Sod is the most controversial factor in any Thai – western relationship and can be so significant and dividing that it can destroy a well established relationship, even after years together, prior to a wedding.
Women have very defined roles in Thai society and within marriage. The expansion of education in Thailand and improvement of women’s rights has opened the door to younger Thai women to take up posts in the civil service and in commercial organisations. At present, it is estimated that over half those working within the Thai civil service are women.
Despite this, the role of women in society has been slow to change and there is a strict moral code. Despite the infamous Thai prostitution industry, only a minute percentage of Thai women have ever been involved in prostitution. It is important to remember this. Although Thai society would appear to have a different or ‘softer’ attitude towards prostitution, the conservative view is that is frowned upon as much as the west.
It is accepted that many poor families will send their daughters into the industry, but no Thai man would ever consider marriage to such a woman. Any Thai man’s family would be strongly opposed to any such union. In Thai society there is also a stigma attached to women who are divorced or separated from their husbands. The large majority of Thai families would be strongly opposed to their son making any such union with a divorced or separated women, especially if children are involved.
“Thai Women are Caught Between Old Customs and 21st Century Thinking”
Thailand is still a patriarchal society. Although it is changing, it is changing very slowly. Thai women in general are becoming more educated. Many now going on to tertiary level education. Having said that, it is very difficult for Thai women to actively go against their own culture including key principles that have been ingrained since birth. Many of these principles are Buddhist. It takes very strong women to make a stand alone and change social paradigms.
It is often pointed out that Thailand was never colonised. This has led to a living and powerful sense of culture and identity which reaches down to all levels of Thai society. This identity can be observed as paranoid and xenophobic to outsiders. The westernisation of Thai society can be seen in Bangkok and urban centres in Thailand where it is not uncommon now for Thai women to work outside the home but most Thai wives still play a supporting role to their husbands.
Understanding Thai women in society is most important before one makes the decision that marrying a Thai woman is one’s plan for the long term. A Thai woman can be the ideal partner who will take good care of you for your entire life, as long as you also take care of her. She is marrying you so that she will feel secure, personally and financially, and if you can do that then you will have a wonderful life together.