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Touching Thai people on the head

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Posted

I think I really meesed up by playfully slapping a guy's head. sort of like ruffeling his hair, or a playful slap. just playing while a bit drunk. he's cousin of wife but I think he wants to beat me now. Is it very bad to do this and what do I do to fix things. The atmosphere is horrible.

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Posted

You screwed up big time I'm afraid. You might as well have just spat in his face, urinated in his beer and then scratched the paint on his pickup. You just can't do this in Thailand, where the head is sacred, and he's taken the clip to his head as a grave insult. You need to ask his forgiveness. Buy him the most expensive bottle of whiskey in town (this big size), take it to him and offer it up with the most sincere apology you can muster... and do it with a wai so deep that your forehead hits his feet.

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Posted

Ummm, as he's family he should be more willing accept your apology, as he's family he shouldn't really have taken such deep offense anyway, farang are given a fair degree of leeway; you're expected to get it wrong. Did you get on with this guy before, or has he been looking for just such an excuse?

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Posted

So bad? I think it is and I knew right away i messedup. No problems with him before but his smiles were forced I think he was just pretending to be nice. Now i did this he reacted badly to me, true feelings? I need to clear it all up because its sonkran now but i think other family are more annoyed with him, but i made the mistake.

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Posted

If it makes you feel any better, I made a similar error once, and I still cringe about it to this day, eight years on. I used to hang around with a bunch of Thais in Hong Kong and that obviously took me to Thai karaokes and restaurants quite often. In the UK, where I'm from (and many western countries I guess), it's normal for rough and tumble blokes to slap eachother on the back, play fight, give your mates a clip around the ear and I thought that's what I was doing with this Thai fellow (it was only the first time I'd met him). The atmosphere froze so hard and so fast, the beer didn't need ice. When you consider the importance of 'Greang Jai' (consideration for others) in Thai culture, and how important a part of the body the head is to Thais, it really is an appalling insult to slap someone's head...

However, all is not lost and you will score big bonus points by begging for, and gaining his forgiveness. Thais place great value in your ability to apologise and clear the atmosphere. It'll be forgotten about in no time at all.

Happy Songkran!

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Posted

Somers, even though what you did is equivalent to shagging up with his wife and his two daughters (at the same time) I think he will get over it but be prepared for him to hold a grudge for the terms of your natural life.. The Thai's Mai Pren Lai attitude is an absolute farce, they all hold a grudge but they won't show it as it will lose face.

Like MD has suggested in his earlier post, buy him a bottle of whiskey. Whatever you do don't by Johnny Red, go for the Chivas or Johnny Black (maybe Gold). Then tell him that you are just a stupid farang and apologise. Some thing like "Khoa apay ti phom len hua khun poh phom mai lu nisay khon Thai" translation "please accept my apologies for playing with your head, I didn't know the this Thai culture". However, whatever you do, Do Not Grovel, as this will set the scene for future interactions that he will have something over you.

Do this in front of your wife and your wife's parents, then the ball is in his court. BTW, is he older or younger than you? This plays a major part as well in how you apologise.

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Posted

Some thing like "Khoa apay ti phom len hua khun poh phom mai lu nisay khon Thai" translation "please accept my apologies for playing with your head, I didn't know the this Thai culture".

Just spent a short while deciphering the transliteration there (my Thai is not excellent) and thought as I had trouble I might help out with another version as phonetically it's quite difficult to read. I would spell it more like:

kor apai ti phom len hua khun proh phom mai roo nisai khon Thai

I should also credit my wife for a little help :-p

Regards to the act itself, she says if it's close friends then for her that sort of behaviour is fine, but not for just any Joe Blow aquantances. She also says the apology should suffice with a Wai, with or without the present.

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Posted

Ummm, as he's family he should be more willing accept your apology, as he's family he shouldn't really have taken such deep offense anyway, farang are given a fair degree of leeway; you're expected to get it wrong. Did you get on with this guy before, or has he been looking for just such an excuse?

I agree with Stocky.. if he's part of the family, and you were only having a bit of fun, he shouldn't take it serious. Mandrunk is a little off base. Touching some ones head now adays isn't like it was 50 years ago. I pat children on the head all the time, and most of them like it. Parents do it and even their friends do it fooling around. So my advice is, ask your wife to explain that tousling some ones hair in farang land is a sign of affection. camaradirie, what ever. Then buy him a fifth of whiskey and help him drink it. :lol:

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Posted

Touching some ones head now adays isn't like it was 50 years ago.

Unfortunately, some Thais aren't as liberal as you may think, the head is a revered and a sacred place for many Thais (in matter of facts most Asians) and it is a sign of ultimate disrespect if you play with someone elses head. Patting children on the head and tousling a grown man is markedly different. Like I said before, it also depends on the age of the person the OP tousled. Nevertheless, any grown man, especially from rural Thailand do have that conservative mentality, no matter how well you might think, the Thais, like many Asians understand how not to lose face whilst inside seething. Thais and most Asians are a master of being passively aggressive, people have to take their western glasses off when they're in these Asian countries, otherwise you will never understand the real psyche of that society.

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Posted

Unfortunately, some Thais aren't as liberal as you may think, the head is a revered and a sacred place for many Thais (in matter of facts most Asians) and it is a sign of ultimate disrespect if you play with someone elses head. Patting children on the head and tousling a grown man is markedly different. Like I said before, it also depends on the age of the person the OP tousled. Nevertheless, any grown man, especially from rural Thailand do have that conservative mentality, no matter how well you might think, the Thais, like many Asians understand how not to lose face whilst inside seething. Thais and most Asians are a master of being passively aggressive, people have to take their western glasses off when they're in these Asian countries, otherwise you will never understand the real psyche of that society.

I agree entirely.

Messing about with an adults head or sprawling down with your feet in someone's face is a definate no - no.

If a Thai perceives that you have caused him to lose face, he can hold a grudge for years.

You'll get to know about it, just as a length of cold steel slides between your ribs and he will give you a big smile while doing it.

The only guys who can slap your head are barbers. And they will murmer a little apology first.

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Posted

I would like to read more about face saving, grudge holding, and all that from a Thai's point of view. Did any of you ever try to extract that information from your spouses and pass it on? I wonder how much actual fact can be mined from the mind of a Thai about all this. It would be very interesting reading.

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As you suggest, I plan to expand the Thai culture part of the website. Instead of just having the usual boiler plate crap that most websites write about Thailand, I'll try and put together some readable in depth articles.

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Posted

Sounds like he had was in a bit of a mood before, if he reacted like that because he knows you are a farang not Thai. Why should you know this...I have alos made this mistake but I simply just got told I can't do this by another friend. It was during a football tournament and my team mate scored, he is about 6 years older then me and like we do in England...I patted the back of his head in celebration. They all forgave me and there was really no problem but I now know not to do it again. However I often touch my GF's nephews head whos is 7 years old, in Thailand is a nice thing if you touch someone very young on the head.

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Posted

In this discussion I think MD has referred to Thai culture and linking it to Thai sense of humility.

Being someone who has lived in Thailand for only 3 years I do not consider myself in any way and expert on Thai culture or Thai mindset. I think I have learned a lot in that time but would need to be reborn here or spend three life times here in order to "understand" the Thai mindset.

In the related article on humility the author say "The need to 'aow jai' everyone ('please' everyone), is fundamental to the Thai mindset." and in the reply on touching a Thai on the head he says "When you consider the importance of 'Greang Jai' (consideration for others) in Thai culture,"

If, as westerners, people really claim to understand this sufficiently to give advice to others, can you answer me this then please?

How do Aow Jai (please Everyone) and Greang Jai (consideration for others) come in to play when Thais are driving their cars and tail gateing or blocking a side road even though they are going nowhere, or simply pulling out on you while you are doing 80kph on the dual carriageway? Or how does it fit in when motor bikes sit 10 deep having jumped the queue at the traffic lights? Or indeed how does it fit with the utter impatience of people entering or leaving an elevator?

The answer is, they dont. And so, it is wrong to apply these outdated quaint Thai cultures to the modern world. Just as Thai girls are told Englishmen are the best Gentlemen in the world and that westerners rise from their seats when a lady enters the room, it’s nonsense in the modern world and its just as much a nonsense in Thailand. Thais take offense and use their historic culture when they feel like it and it suits them. Don’t be fooled. I see many Thais touching and hitting each other on the head and there is never a problem. The guy who has taken offense is an arse and should be ignored as one.

As for lowering you position as you pass someone, this is an almost universal approach in Thailand and one that is observed almost at all times and such we should encompass that in our behavior as westerners in this country. There is no double standards with this element of Thai culture,. But Aow Jai and Greang jai are things from the past...

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Posted

I think I really meesed up by playfully slapping a guy's head. sort of like ruffeling his hair, or a playful slap. just playing while a bit drunk. he's cousin of wife but I think he wants to beat me now. Is it very bad to do this and what do I do to fix things. The atmosphere is horrible.

Well it depends how the person in facto is reacting on it

I did it while embrasing an old man living up the street

my wife told me about it later but he didn't make a point about it.

The old man kept smiling

Guess if they like you you can get away with it

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