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Sabai Sabai

Follow the link to read Thai Culture And Relationships (Part 1)...

Thailand's economy has been based on agriculture since the days of Siam. Rice, which is the main food source, and other produce are available year round. The abundance of food put many people at ease because there is no need to struggle for survival. There's always shelter and food to eat.

People become relaxed and tend to take things easily and casually. This laid-back Thai mentality is expressed with the term sabai sabai. Today, most Thais, especially the ones that live in smaller towns and make their living in agriculture, still have this outlook on life.

Thais are happy, friendly and easy going

Sabai sabai is a positive quality that eases up tension. People who are sabai sabai are friendly, flexible, compromising, happy, relaxed and content with their lives.

The Drawbacks Of Sabai Sabai

At the same time, being too sabai sabai can cause frustration to others, particularly the ones who are from different cultures where people pay more attention to rules:

- Being late or not showing up at all for appointments without giving advance notice

Original photo: Somkid Chaijitvanit

- Not following the traffic rules, such as parking where there's “no parking” signs

- Lack of motivation at work

- Not paying attention to details, especially among tradesmen

- A drinking culture among males

- Smiling at all times

Thailand is called the land of smiles
When we feel sabai, we're happy and smile easily. Most Thais like to smile. This friendly habit makes visitors feel welcome and at home.

At the same time, smiling while talking about serious matters can lead to misunderstandings, and as a result you may think that Thais can't be taken seriously. Foreigners may not understand how Thais could possibly smile while discussing serious issues. Thais, on the other hand, look at it as talking about serious matters in an accepting or casual way.

Indirect Communication

Most Thais are subtle in their communications. We're also really caring and considerate of others. These qualities are called kreng jai and have an immediate effect on how we communicate.

Often, Thais don't say what they want in order to avoid hurting or embarrassing the person they're talking to. Instead, we would hint what we really want to say.

For example if we're hungry, we would invite the friend to go out to eat. We normally wouldn't mention that we're hungry because we assume the friend is hungry too.

So, one way that may help you better understand Thais is to read between the lines...


Thais are quite reserved unlike Westerners, who are more outspoken. In Thailand it's considered rude to express strong emotions, such as anger, openly.

Whenever we become upset with someone, we tend to keep it to ourselves. So, instead of communicating verbally with the person we're upset with, we turn quiet. This reaction is especially common among women.

Learning About Each Other's Cultures

The grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Likewise, we're attracted to people from exotic ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Values And Beliefs

It's true that different cultures have their own values, beliefs and practices. As it were, values and beliefs are deeply rooted in the mind.

Let's compare values and beliefs to red ink, and a person to a piece of white cloth.

Growing up in a certain culture is like putting a drop of red ink on the cloth every day. If you were to wash the cloth with bleach on the second or third day, after having started the experiment, the ink could be totally removed and the cloth would become white again.

However, if we drop ink on the cloth over a number of years, the whole piece would turn red. Then, not even the strongest bleach would be able to remove all the stains.

Values and beliefs are absorbed into a person's mind in the same way. The longer we live in a culture, the more the values and beliefs color our minds.

Understanding Foreign Cultures

In order to deeply understand our partner's thoughts and behavior, we need to open up and learn more about her cultural background. By putting our opinions and judgments aside, we'll be able to see things the way they really are. This way, we can gain a deep understanding of foreign cultures.

Most of us are really attached to the things we're familiar with, it could be what you eat and how you eat it. These are habits.

Whenever we experience something that's different from what we're used to, we automatically judge it based on our preferences. This usually makes it wrong and unacceptable, in one way or the other. Our first reaction is to disapprove and resist...

Cultural Differences

It's true that a foreigner's behavior may be considered inappropriate in your culture. However, this doesn't mean that our judgment, based on our values and beliefs, apply to other cultures. On the contrary, this type of behavior might be looked up to in other societies.

Let's take a look at an example. In South Korea slurping and burping while eating are expressions of appreciation. It shows that you really enjoy the meal. Imagine if a Korean were to eat in the same way while visiting a British friend in the UK. His good intentions to complement on the food, would be completely misunderstood. Instead, the host would perceive the guest as downright rude.

If you don't know about someone else's culture and don't want to reach out to learn more about it, you would never understand why the person behaves inappropriately.

Likewise, by just being yourself when visiting a new place, you could possibly insult the locals. Because what is accepted or valued in your society, won't always be appreciated and approved of in other cultures.

Living With Cultural Differences

Learning about the cultural differences and accepting them, would enable you to better understand your partner; for example, why she thinks and behaves in certain ways.

Your mind, that's been resisting these cultural differences, would be able to accept them for what they are. As a result, there would be less frustration and tension.

With love and respect for each other, you'll be able to meet half way and bring the best from both cultures into your relationship.

Suggested Reading:   Thai Language Barriers   Thai Sniff Kiss

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