Thai women are among the most desirable in the world. No matter what social class, financial situation, or profession, you and your Thai girlfriend or fiancée will share great times, emotional experiences, and hopefully, profound love.
Generally speaking, your middle class, professional lady is going to have a wide social circle, consisting of family, close friends, work friends, and acquaintances. While that will be intimidating at first, don’t give up or be shy! Having such a network is beneficial for both of you. If you are living in Thailand, these folks will bring stability to your life and make her transition into an inter-racial relationship easier. So much of life with you will be unfamiliar and new to her; therefore, it is important that she’s able to maintain healthy relationships with friends from her culture.
With a few digressions, this column focuses on dating a middle-class Thai woman with a professional job. So much of the internet’s discussion of Thailand focuses on bar girls and the sex scenes in various parts of the country (Pattaya and Kho San Road foremost among them) that we feel it is our duty to talk about lives that are more conventional by Western standards, and are more stable and long-term. There are hundreds of websites out there celebrating the kinky glory of Thai bar girls, but this isn’t one of them. At least not today!
Your race played a huge part in your upbringing and how you continue to see the world. This is mainly due to the intertwining (especially in the West) of race and culture, and here we’ll be using the terms somewhat interchangeably, but just bear in mind that race is a social construct and our culture is really what determines who we are and how we relate to others, whether we realize it before or not.
As you go forward in your relationship with a Thai woman, you will learn a tremendous amount by watching how your partner is treated and how you’re treated together. You can learn even more by being a dedicated student of the language and listening to her conversations with friends and family. Doing this is the first step in a happy and harmonious relationship with your beautiful Thai partner.
According to various sources, in the West, one in ten opposite-sex marriages are between people who identify with different races. Data is difficult to find on such marriages in Thailand, but you certainly see many mixed couples as you go about your day. A unique set of experiences are common to many people in inter-racial relationships and we’re going to explore some of them here.
Are you uncomfortable with people pre-judging you? Well, you’d better get used to it! You are just going to have to learn to “shrug things off” every now and then. Most of the time strangers aren’t rude, and in Thailand and across Southeast Asia, politeness is one of the premium virtues and great emphasis is placed on not giving insult or offense to others. But all of us come with preconceived notions about other people and other cultures, and when an inter-racial couple challenges these notions, friction can occur.
Smallest issues first: You’ll get stared at a lot. This is one of the little cultural issues and differences that will crop up a lot as you move through your new love. Southeast Asians in general, will look much longer than people from Western cultures. This is nothing but a difference in our expectations of other people. They mean no offense, it just may be that they haven’t been up close with many white or Westerners before and find you fascinating. At worst, it is irritating. At best, this sort of attention is very flattering and can make you feel like a movie star or a rock star.
The last thing you should do is think that some Thai chap is “staring you down.” This isn’t the weigh-ins before a prizefight. Nobody is trying to intimidate you or pick a fight. Thailand is the “Land of Smiles” and if you just give somebody a big grin, they will return it graciously and usually get about their day.
But Thai people can be very blunt, also, with less regard for norms of social and sexual propriety than some in the West, and so you’ll find yourself being asked very intimate questions at times, by family and strangers alike. With a stranger, some people feel a sense of liberation to ask whatever they want. Having a set of “stock answers” that you can rattle off in good nature (and with a smile, of course) will help you a tremendous amount in such situations.
Since female sexuality is such a commodity in Thailand, women’s bodies are on display in bars and peep shows across the country, you’ll find yourself confronting a lot of sexual stereotypes, answering dirty questions, and deflecting innuendo. For some people, mainly inconsiderate (or usually just drunk) backpackers and tourists you meet in bars or restaurants, dating a Thai girl means that you have some sort of perverse fetish for small or submissive women.
These slings and arrows and preconceptions hurt and cause some men to lash out. It is hard to keep your cool in these scenarios, I can tell you from personal experience. This won’t all come from Westerners, but from your partner’s friends as well; some Thai people have a sexualized obsession with whiteness, the size of our endowments, and the intensity of our libidos!
While a “sexualized obsession with whiteness” sounds amazing, it is a preconception and a barrier like any other prejudice. You will have to deal with the commoditization and subsequent disrespect of her sexuality and desires as well. Your friends won’t respect the amount of work and “tender loving care” that you’ve put into finding your girlfriend and your relationship with her.
So many people, your old mates included, will think you just flew over to Thailand and hooked up with the first girl that would have you, or that you used your wealth (remember, to most Thai people, you are rich, comparatively speaking, but more on that later) and status to just pick a girl like a child would pick from a litter of kittens at the pet store. Pattaya can be a lusty paradise, to be sure, but for most people, finding true love there isn’t as simple as plucking a beautiful woman off the beach like a coconut.
You can expect a bit of outright racism, but that won’t be as much of a problem as you initially fear, especially if you are living in Thailand. But you might notice subtle signs that you are making people uncomfortable, or jealous. We will talk much more about racism and its effects in an upcoming column.
For now, we’ll say just a few things. You and your Thai partner’s interracial relationship will shine a light on the cultural differences that make certain people uneasy, uncomfortable, and outright hostile. You will find yourself becoming more aware of how people treat one another, becoming more aware of your surroundings and the people you surround yourself with.
The language barrier can be difficult to navigate, and not just understanding one another, but communicating with your extended social circles, as well. Your Western friends might get frustrated or suspicious when you speak Thai with your girlfriend in front of them. And while you are still learning to converse in the Thai language, you’ll get frustrated when long conversations are going on around you about work or family life without being translated.
Furthermore, you will soon find out that you have some friends that can’t keep anything to themselves and feel as though their running commentary is essential listening. Generally speaking, these are people who are uneasy with race and the issues interracial couples pose. Try to be patient and find common ground with these folks, and always remember that societies around the world have a long way to go towards healing our racial and cultural divisions.
While this is easier said than done, don’t feel as though you’ve got to be an exemplary couple because people place extra pressure on inter-racial relationships, feeling as though you two are setting some sort of profound example for society. You are just two people trying to find love in a globalized world.
Her Career Opens Doors For You, Too.
While Thailand is a relatively “sex-positive” place, and many decades of holiday tourists, immigrants, expatriates, and travelers have made most Thai (especially in the cities) accustomed to seeing inter-racial couples, there are still some stigmas you’ll have to overcome. Dating a middle-class woman as opposed to a bar girl or poor girl from the countryside will make that task easier.
Now, let us take a moment here to pause and say that we’ve got nothing but praise and love for those hardworking girls who are trying to better their lot in life by any means necessary. Girls from the countryside are charming and hardworking and full of curiosity about the wider world. And bar girls have a savvy and street-smarts unique to them, as well as experience with Western men and their cultures.
However, having a relationship with a middle-class girl saves you from having to deal with some significant issues and get a “jump start” on your new relationship. That you aren’t dating a bar girl will earn you a wealth of respect amongst your new Thai friends. They will know that you are looking to marry for love, not sexual convenience. Having a partner that can navigate through society without a lot of emotional or physical baggage and back-story will make both of your lives easier.
As we’ve mentioned before, she’ll already have a social circle of professional friends and that makes life so much easier than having to deal with a group of girls who make their living between happy hour and sunup.
Normal work hours, and friends with normal work hours, are highly beneficial for a stable relationship. You’ll need to spend time together to get to know one another, and that is possible with a middle-class woman, who will have some money of her own and not have to work two jobs to support herself and her family.
Being a middle-class professional girl, she will have learned to be reliable and on-time (as much as one can be on time in Bangkok’s hideous and infamous traffic) as well as professional in her appearance and manner of speaking. There is a good chance she will be somewhat “Westernized” in culture by her job, as there are many international corporations in Bangkok and Chang Mai, and her familiarity with some of your customs and habits will make those first months that much easier.
However, don’t expect that just because she speaks enough English to do her job and knows slang terms and football rules that she is no different than a Western girl. Culture is a deeply ingrained thing and she will inevitably have different expectations for a relationship than you do.
Foremost among those will be money. Now, money is the primary cause for fights among couples everywhere in the world, much more so than sex or religion or how the kids will be raised. You might expect that since she has a good, middle-class job that she will not expect you to provide everything for her. Your expectation will be wrong in most cases!
In a future column, we will spend a lot of time learning about how to talk about money: in fact, that is such an enormous and sensitive topic that we will probably discuss it repeatedly.
But for now, be aware of this: People’s views on money, how much should be earned, and how much should be spent (and who spends it!) are rooted in their culture, not in their current financial status. Always be open and honest, and while that is simple and somewhat clichéd advice, it is also the best and truest way to financial stability and happiness in your inter-racial relationship.
Let her know that your money, like hers, is not unlimited and that you live by a weekly budget. Stick to that budget to show her that you are serious about it and don’t be constantly lavishing gifts on her that you cannot afford, especially at the beginning of a relationship. She could very easily get the wrong idea about your level of wealth. Don’t fall for the stereotype of Thai women being greedy or “gold-diggers.”
That is easy and reductive thinking that leads to no good when applied to a woman you love. It also smacks of racism at worst, cultural carelessness at best. It is also a little sexist. Plenty of guys end up sponging off their women after finding themselves unemployed or facing an uncertain visa situation. More on visas, much more, in an upcoming column, as it as ever changing labyrinth of regulations.
Also, take a moment to stop and think about things from her perspective, and do so regularly. Fairly or not, you bear some cultural burdens. She’s likely heard about some of the white men who came to Thailand before you and haven’t behaved in a gentlemanly manner. Heck, many of them have been downright awful. “Foreigners Behaving Badly” is a popular segment on television news and in the voraciously read newspapers across the country.
And take a moment to take stock of yourself. You are dating and hoping to marry a professional, gainfully-employed woman, and you live in her country. Are you still a presentable, middle-class man yourself? Or have you become a beach bum, grown a beer belly, or become so dependant on her and her knowledge that you’ve become a second job for her?
Many ex-pats come to Thailand and lose themselves in the process. They still think they are James Bond, but they behave like Andy Capp. She needs to keep up appearances, too; and if you don’t remember how important “saving face” is to the Thai people and your lady especially, be sure to read our previous column on it.
The Expectations of Privilege
As we mentioned before, whether you like it or not, you are “rich” in Thailand. For most Thai, the simple fact that you can leave home and your established job for a substantial amount of time, buy an airplane ticket, stay by yourself in a guesthouse or apartment, and court a beautiful woman makes you very wealthy.
Maintain your budget, but if you want your relationship to be successful, you are going to have to spend some money, and you are going to have to spend it in some odd places. Some nights you’ll be frugal, and some nights you’ll spend so extravagantly that it will make your head spin. This will often occur without any apparent or obvious reason to you. Just try to talk things over beforehand, although even that isn’t always possible due to language or other cultural impediments.
For example, she might expect you to know that going to the pagoda on a certain religious holiday will require a donation to the monks. If you’ve never been a religious fellow, it may be more than you’ve ever given to a church.
But you should do it anyway, even if you aren’t a Buddhist. Why? For a number of reasons (and remember, this is just one example, you can extrapolate it for any number of scenarios).
The first is simple. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” In a country that values social cohesion and “fitting in” as much as Thailand does, sometimes, you’ve got to go along to get along. At least for a while.
Second, it shows that you are committed to your new country and to learning your new culture. This will impress your new love and her family. Participation is essential, and as Woody Allen said, “eighty percent of life is just showing up.”
Finally, it allows your girlfriend to not just save face, but earn more honor. If you didn’t show up to the ceremony (or whatever social occasion) it would’ve caused her to lose face, but since you are there, she gains respect. Never forget how much the respect of her family and peers means to her.
You’ll go to a lot of weddings. This will be true no matter where you live, but if you live in the countryside it will more than likely doubly true. During the nice weather that happens before the rainy season, you will find yourself invited to more than one event a weekend! If you want your girlfriend to take both you and your relationship seriously, you better be prepared to attend more than a handful with her.
These days of joy and matrimony are a great way to observe and learn about your new cultures. Weddings are one of the bonds that hold Thai society together and you’ll see a lot of new things, hear new music, and try new foods if you choose to participate enthusiastically.
Pay close attention to what your girlfriend is doing. There are a lot of unique rituals at weddings but if you just follow along, preferably with a big smile on your face, you won’t look like a fool. You will probably be expected to dance. No matter how much you don’t want to get out there and shake your moneymaker, don’t be a spoilsport. Even a few dances will make your girlfriend happy. She’ll be all dressed up, often in traditional clothing. Take your cues from her, but you are usually good in khakis and a polo or button-up shirt.
In many Southeast Asian countries, anything novel or a little bit strange at a wedding is considered good luck. So as an inter-racial couple, you will usually qualify. Enjoy the attention you’ll get by being such a big part of somebody’s special day.
And, if you behave yourself, you may find a wedding in your own future!