Listen to episode 136 of the Inspirational Living podcast: Learn Thai Culture: Basic Thailand Travel Guide Podcast. Adapted from the work of Ajarn David.
Expat Travel Podcast Excerpt: If you are planning a trip to Thailand, whether it be as a tourist, business person, or English teacher, your success in The Land of Smiles will depend on more than learning a bit of the Thai language. More importantly, it will involve understanding the nuances of Thai culture—especially the complicated but ubiquitous issue of face saving and loss of face.
Westerners can understand the concept of face saving when it involves obvious humiliation. But there are hundreds of not so obvious situations where face issues are at play and the foreigner is (more often than not) blissfully ignorant until it’s too late. For example, it is obvious to many foreigners who live in Thailand that we should always be humble in victory, and never (even in good-natured fashion) jokingly rub it in when winning a game or argument. Less obvious though is how our “why” questions cause a Thai person to feel a loss of face.
Most Americans, Canadians, and Brits don’t realize how much we abuse why questions. However, if you think about it a little, you will begin to see how frequently we use why questions not because we are seeking the unknown but because we are trying to coerce an apology, or an admission of guilt, forgetfulness, or stupidity. Because nearly all Westerners do this, nobody takes too much offense.
However, Thai people do not fancy this manipulative game we foreigners play with why questions. They see it (often rightly) as an attempt to make the other person lose face. So, if you want to maintain good relationships in Thailand, you’ll be wise to scale back your why questions.