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Abundant food, conspicuous skyscrapers, traffic jam, congested air, speeding taxis— welcome to the city of Bangkok. Each year, millions of tourists and foreign investors fly to this “City of Angels” for vacation, adventure, and business investments. There are foreigners who enjoyed their stay in Bangkok with a promise to make a second trip back. On the other hand, there are also foreigners who had a not-so-good experience with reasons having to do with miscommunication and cultural differences. What are some of these cultural differences? To Westerners, eye contact and a pat on the shoulder for instance, are regarded as expression of sincerity and friendship. In Thailand however, such behaviors may be interpreted as intrusive. Eye contact in Thailand is usually kept very brief and any sort of physical contact like shoulder patting or a handshake is reserved only between close friends. So, the next time you see the vendor avoiding eye contact with you, don't quickly jump to the conclusion that she's ignoring you. She might not want to be rude ( as is part of her culture), or perhaps, she's just shy around foreigners.
In the Thai culture, the concept of saving face is very important. Thais do not like to lose face. Sometimes they may react with behavior that foreigners view as just plain rude. Say what? Take this scenario as an example. A frustrated British gentleman can’t find his way to a certain office building. He tried asking some locals for direction but couldn’t get a respond from them because they couldn’t understand English. Because they feel embarrassed to attempt any English communication, they kept pointing and directing the gentleman to someone else to get him off their hands. Of course, they hope that someone else may be able to speak English and help the man out. After being directed around for over twenty minutes, the foreigner became irritated. He shouted in midair, “Why doesn’t anyone here know anything?!” Thais are usually non-confrontational (unless they’re drunk of course). When they see an angered foreigner, they naturally try to steer clear. Some may even giggle when they see him lose temper. This is not because Thais enjoy seeing exasperated foreigners, but this ‘nervous laugh’ is a way to conceal their embarrassment, in other words, to save face when they’re being yelled at. People from other culture might interpret this laugh as being insensitive and rude. It might be, but often times it's not meant to be so. Misinterpreting gestures and behavior may be the cause of misunderstanding between Thais and foreigners.