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Expats in Thailand


Everyone is different. Generalisations are exactly what the name implies, they are truths or facts from observations of a majority. They do not apply to all. It is always interesting though to appreciate that certain nationalities have traits that are distinguishable from others. And interesting how Thais perceive them.

The Americans and the French are so diametrically opposite in their views on many subjects that it is not surprising that their attitudes to living or integrating in a foreign country are not the same.

Last week, I said we could take a look together at how those two western nationalities reacted to the same situation. Before we do that, it may be useful to list some broad general differences  and compare them with how Thais see themselves. I have made the list by using adjectives perceived by Thais to most closely represent their view of that country’s people. The Brits are probably more like the Americans than the other nationalities. But please feel free to comment.

French, work to live; Americans, live to work; Thais, work to live.

French, enjoy life; Americans, enjoy but not so visibly; Thais, openly enjoy. (sanuk)

French, sociable; Americans, openly and outwardly friendly; Thais, shy but smiling

French and Americans, rational; Thais very emotional, feeling is more important in their culture than rationalising or critical thinking.

French and Americans will question, Americands particularly so; Thais, unquestioning and dislike criticising, influenced by class barriers.

French and Americans are direct, Americans very much “in your face”.; Thais, are tactful to the extent of never being direct or confronting.

For the French and Americans, status is not important; for Thais status is essential in order to show position in the hierarchy and class system.

Westerners will normally listen to reason; Thais prefer not to question or get into a conflict role. Feeling is more natural to them than critical thinking or reasoning.

Showing wealth indicates position to a Thai. Westerners don’t seem to need to do that.

This is a very broad brush comparison. It would take 40,000 words to really explain and give case studies and discussions.


In a petanque (boules) club in Thailand there were, as one would expect, more French players than any other nationality. Apart from one French couple, there were many other nationalities with Thai partners. Everyone had a reasonable understanding of the Thai way of life and knew the country well.

While Brits and Americans would shake hands only on formal occasions, the French use a handshake and la bise  (greeting by kissing on the cheek) more readily on meeting and departing. Maybe that influences their tendency to be more sociable and friendly. It breaks the ice more quickly for sure. Thais will wai and smile on meeting you.  Both Thais and the French enjoy people company. It is no surprise that the word camaraderie is a French word. Americans are friendly, exceptionally so, but not so overtly caring and responsive to others. Let me give an example.

Petanque can be a serious game, especially if there are bets on who wins. In this expat environment, with many nationalities playing the game is less formal and is meant as enjoyment and being happy. That fits in well with the Thai concept of sanuk, everything should be fun. Go to a tax office in Thailand and see bureaucrats and taxpayers smiling an joking.

A French lady in her late seventies, evidently a competent boules player in her youth, now has difficulty moving and seeing. Without exception, all the Thai ladies present were helping her by positioning themselves behind the cochonet so that she could make correct aim. There was no discouragement from rival teams but there was not the same instinctive friendly banter and bonhomie with the Americans. It was noticeable that it was the French and Thais that were coming across as the more friendly.  They were the better integrators.

Please give your comments and we’ll follow up next week.

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