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All Thais Cheat?

31/05/2013

Cars had parked very closely to me. I had little space to manoeuver. My wing mirror slightly touched another car but I checked that there was no damage to either vehicle. This was at Wat Phra Dhammakaya, on the outskirts of Bangkok, and I was moving my car to another part of the complex to visit some friends.

On leaving their apartment two hours later, I saw a group, including a security guard, hovering over the two cars. They said that I had damaged another vehicle and pointed to several areas on the rear and offside bodywork. The security guard said he had seen the damage being caused. I had seen his being slipped two 100-baht notes.

The insurance assessor was trying to find a compromise and a money sum that would settle the matter. Establishing fault did not seem to be a priority. Avoiding conflict and not spending too much time talking appeared to be their solution. If the farang has more money than the Thai does, then the farang pays. I think that was my assessor’s logic too.

Compromising when there is some doubt on liability would be reasonable. But why should I give way when the guard had been so blatantly bribed? There was rust on some of the alleged damage. That would not have formed in the short time I had been at the wat, whether I had damaged all four sides of his car or not.

I made it clear that I was not going to accept being at fault. There was no recent damage to either vehicle. My insurance assessor realised I was not going to give in.

I was being asked to fund some repairs the other person wanted on his car. He still wanted some sort of settlement and the usual haggling started. Farangs have been known to give way in minor disputes like this. They don’t want the hassle, particularly when another language is involved. Most Thais are reasonable but some are unscrupulous and will take advantage.

Tongue in cheek, I took the Thai stance of suggesting that the police attend and make a report. In Thailand, the police have almost court-like powers. Arguing or explaining your version of events is not usually an option, especially if you are farang.

If I were Thai, the police officer would have seen the rust and quickly dismissed the case. But I knew that he might not have taken such a view with a farang. An officer can sometimes not see things clearly when expats are involved. He would also have wanted to get on with other things, especially if it was getting near his tea break.

Then a monk walked by. Apparently, he recognised me as a student in one of his meditation classes and said so. The occupants of the car I had allegedly damaged were coming to visit him at the temple. He was their son.

The quibbling farce went on. The monk remained quiet. I told my assessor to deal with it. I was handling it the Thai way. I had not accused anyone of a swindle. I had not raised my voice. I was not smiling as a Thai would have been, but neither was I getting angry.

After calmly explaining that I did not cause the damage, I pointed to the rust. Although I did not openly say so, they seemed well aware that I had observed the 200-baht being handed over. They stopped arguing but kept on smiling. I smiled too and drove off.

Paraphrasing the American poet Adrienne Rich: Lying is not only done with words but also with silence.

No doubt, the insurance company filed their papers. I heard no more from them. The monk’s parents are still probably driving round in a vehicle with rust damage on all four sides. The monk is, I am sure, still teaching meditation.

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