Thailand

Cultural Information

Answers to your intercultural questions from a Canadian and a local point of view.

Cultural Information - Conversations

Question:

I am meeting someone for the first time and I want to make a good impression. What would be good discussion topics?

Local Perspective:

In Thailand, like anywhere else, people differ in their level of education, experiences, social status, religious upbringing, the environment they grow up in, the part of the country they come from, etc. For example, in big cities like Bangkok or Chiang Mai, a large number of people are highly educated, work in multinational corporations, universities, or government offices. These people would be familiar with Western cultures and may have already adopted some into their way of life. To them the Western approach in dealing with people, work, life, etc. would be quite acceptable.

To the majority of the Thais who are, perhaps not educated in Western countries, who live outside of the "modern" or "sophisticated" centres, however, the Thai culture and ways of doing things are still very much the norm, and other cultures and approaches may be considered alien or unfamiliar. From this perspective, therefore, I will formulate my responses to the questions in this survey.

Good discussion topics: Ordinary Thais are quite inquisitive, therefore, the question of where one is from, what kind of work one does and for how long would be quite an acceptable icebreaker. One should not ask about the other’s family until a certain level of familiarity has been established.

Topics that might offend or should be avoided: Thai people are quite sensitive to being embarrassed by questions on their income, the kind of house they live in, or questions of personal nature. Criticism of the royal family must be avoided at all cost since it is not only against the law but Thai people revere their monarchy. About 95% of Thai people are Buddhist and Buddhist monks are held in high esteem. Criticism of their religion and monks, who represent their religion, are considered very bad form. Mockery of one’s physical or intellectual deficiencies, though in jest, can also deeply offend.

Humour: Thai people are fun loving in nature. They love having fun and poking fun at one another. They also love good jokes as long as they don’t offend or embarrass. Their humour is often related to events, situations, ineptitude of some people or groups of people (in the same vein as Canadian "Newfie jokes"), or the way things are said or expressed.

Canadian Perspective:

Family is always a good topic. If you have children, bring pictures of them. Where you are from is also OK. Related to this—schools (where are your friends’ children going to school? etc.) is always a major issue and something people talk about.

Food is discussed much more than in Canada—so if the meeting is over a meal, food— what is being eaten at the meal, how it was prepared, where it might be from and on from there; also comparisons with Canadian food—can be a good way of finding some mutual interests and amusing differences.

Many Thai men are avid international sports fans—especially international tennis and soccer.

It obviously depends partly on the context. Formal business relations might not easily accommodate informal conversation about family. Like in Canada, work may be the more appropriate topic initially.

I can’t think of any really taboo topics that wouldn’t also be sensitive in Canada. Be careful in discussing the royal family. Religion may be a good topic of discussion—Thai’s are very open minded, but as in Canada one needs to be careful here.

Humour—don’t be bothered or take too seriously humour about possible relationships with members of the opposite sex in Thailand.

Cultural Information - Communication Styles

Question:

What do I need to know about verbal and non-verbal communications?

Local Perspective:

Distance when speaking, for strangers, is at least an arm-length away. For friends or those who have known one another long enough, distance becomes less of a formal barrier and may be dictated by the nature of the discussion.

Eye contact should be maintained among friends, acquaintances, or even strangers, while talking, otherwise it may be construed as being insincere or having something to hide. However, in Thai society, speaking to those in revered positions or occupying very high ranks, it is quite common to see the subordinates bowing head during the conversation and having just occasional eye contact. This is a show of respect, not hiding guilt.

Close friends do touch one another when speaking. Superiors may also touch subordinates to show kindness or concerns. In Thailand, it is common to see friends of same sex hold hands. It indicates close friendship and nothing sexual in nature.

It is quite acceptable to gesticulate with hands while speaking. However, it is considered bad form to point an index finger at the person you speak to. Feet must not be used to gesticulate or point, since they are considered "low".

Facial expression to fit the emotional nature of the discussion is quite common among the Thai people. However, angry expressions and violent outbursts are rare. In terms of tone of voice, the Thais are normally gentle people. As such, loud and angry tone of voice is not often heard. It is considered impolite to shout at people in conversation.

Canadian Perspective:

In some circumstances distance between same genders might be less than in Canada, and male-male, and even more—female-female touching is acceptable once people know each other a little and more than in Canada. It’s rude to walk between two people who are talking without ducking one’s head. Be very careful about touching members of the opposite sex. That should be avoided unless it’s not possible to do so (in a car, for example).

Probably the main issue is that some North Americans are too forceful and "in your face" for the comfort of Thais. Don’t talk too loudly (but note that Chinese-Thais do talk loudly—there is a lot of difference here among Thais), avoid pointing at a person you talk to (some North Americans do this when trying to emphasize something but it causes discomfort among Thais). Avoid strong overt expressions of anger or negative emotion (happy emotions are fine); this also causes discomfort. Avoid directly contradicting someone; try to talk around to make the point, open disagreement used to be avoided, although this is changing fast and may not hold anymore to the degree it used to.

At the same time, it is important to realize that Canadians do not need to act like Thais. Body language in Thai speech is much less then among North Americans, and discussion tends to be less emotional, varied, more even. But Thais have a lot of international experience, understand that different cultures communicate differently, and don’t expect Canadians to act like them. Be yourself, don’t be too self-conscious, but do avoid the very aggressive body language, tone, and gesturing.

Cultural Information - Display of Emotion

Question:

Are public displays of affection, anger or other emotions acceptable?

Local Perspective:

Public displays of emotions are quite acceptable among close friends, but are not common with strangers or acquaintances. The Thais are generally considered happy and smiling people, and displays of affection, or even anger, are acceptable among close friends or from seniors to juniors, but open displays of any emotions are not their prominent trait.

Canadian Perspective:

They are not common, anger (even if seemly justified to a Canadian) is generally seen as a kind of breakdown on the part of the person who gets angry, although this is changing. Physical contact between genders is uncommon, kissing in public, for example, is rare and can make Thais uncomfortable. Better to avoid. Nowadays its more common for couples to hold hands but even this used to be relatively rare.

Thais in general are very emotional; they just display emotions differently or in a more modulated way. And, once again, they don’t expect Canadians to act like them. If you laugh loudly in Canada, have a lot of facial expressions, and want to publicly touch a partner in a modest fashion—don’t feel restrained. Unless its interpreted as aggressive, Thais are likely to be more amused than insulted, and certainly won’t hold it against you.

As an aside, transgender and non-heterosexual behaviours are generally quite acceptable, subject to the same common-sense rules as above in terms of public display.

Cultural Information - Dress, Punctuality & Formality

Question:

What should I know about the workplace environment (deadlines, dress, formality, etc.)?

Local Perspective:

It depends on where you work, what kind of work you do, and what rank you occupy. A field job would require casual wears because of the weather, even if you are in superior ranks, unless it involves some official functions when you would normally be told how to dress. Office workers normally wear shirts and ties. High-ranking people normally take business jacket to work for meetings or other formal functions. University workers (including profs) are quite casual with their attires.

The Thais like politeness in addressing one another. First name is used without exception among the Thais, but the word "Khun" (pronounced Koon with short "oo" sound—meaning Miss, Mrs., or Mr., as the case may be) precedes the name, e.g. Khun Jim, Khun Udom, etc. For respected high-ranking persons, you may precede his or her name with "Taan", e.g. Taan Chuan (Former Prime Minister). Lecturers or professors or respected monks are normally called "Ajarn", e.g. Ajarn Saisanom, Ajarn Cha (a renowned meditation monk). Language can be casual among friends or colleagues, but should be more formal with superiors and strangers.

Punctuality is not an absolute must in the Thai society, but is highly admired among the more educated. Thais often do not do a lot planning in advance, therefore, you may be asked to work with rather short deadlines. You should politely but firmly inform the person that you cannot work with such a short deadline; otherwise you will be frustrated often with this same old habit. Productivity is a new concept in the Thai system, but becoming more common, especially in medium and large organizations. However, Thai workers are excellent workers if they know what they have to do, and they can compete anywhere in the world. Absenteeism is quite common among the Thai workers, especially the laborers. They have to be made to understand that this will not be tolerated without good reasons. Good working conditions can help reduce this problem.

Canadian Perspective:

Dress depends on the organization, but is generally conservative. Long hair among men may be viewed with suspicion, for example. Cleanliness and tidiness are important. There are significant differences between big cities (Bangkok, Chiangmai, Puket, etc) and small town/rural norms. Thais tend not to expose as much of their bodies as do Westerners; again, you will be given lots of slack but be observant and avoid "in your face" dress unless you know its OK (e.g. certain kinds of social circles in Bangkok).

Last names are almost never used. Respect is indicated not by use of last name but by prefixes indicating some kind of status or position: for example, in universities, teachers are "achans." If they have a PhD, "Dr." can be appropriate. Older people—more often women--are often appropriately addressed with the word "pii" (older sibling) among friends. Formal, respectful address often means not saying the name at all, but simply using some kind of title (even "pii").

People are generally not punctual nor do they pay a lot of attention to deadlines—but that depends on the organization. Business relationships and organizations may be more attentive of time. Absences for family reasons etc. are acceptable, as they are here.

Cultural Information - Preferred Managerial Qualities

Question:

What qualities are most highly regarded in a local superior/manager? How will I know how my staff view me?

Local Perspective:

I think the most highly regarded qualities, in descending order, are leadership, seniority, experience, education, fair treatment of subordinates, kindness, hard working, open to new ideas, and personality. If the managers/supervisors are non-local the qualities are the same, but the order may change somewhat. For example, fair treatment of subordinates, experience, diligence, and education may be more important than seniority. It is important for a foreign person to have a Thai national whom he/she can trust as his/her second in command. Through him/her one often can gauge how one is viewed by his/her staff. One could consider oneself doing well also if one is treated with deference rather than fear or animosity by one’s staff.

Canadian Perspective:

I am not sure this is all that different from Canada. Being personable is very important. Also, personal loyalties are important. Superiors are expected to do small favours for the people who work for them, or sometimes their students—take them out to meals, perhaps help them if there is a family problem with a bit of money, assistance with helping someone apply to a university in Canada, or if they know the right people, help them through a difficult situation. These expectations may not hold for expat or Canadian superiors but doing this kind of favour can also lead to good relationships with their staff.

At least until recently, there was great respect for hierarchy and an unwillingness to directly challenge superiors, or openly voice complaints or problems. So sometimes it’s difficult to know if the staff are developing problems with you. Indicating openness to discussing problems may help, but not solve this problem. Just be aware of this, I’m not sure that much can be done.

Relationships of superiority-inferiority can be based on many things, not just position at work. Age is much more important than in Canada, and people who are older are generally respected and deferred to. It can be uncomfortable for a Thai if a much younger person is put in charge of an older person who is otherwise of the same status/class (it’s not a problem when there are substantial class differences: eg., a white collar manager’s relations with cleaning staff or driver. But even with a driver, say, it’s appropriate to show appropriate respect if the person is a bit older).

Cultural Information - Hierarchy and Decision-making

Question:

In the workplace, how are decisions taken and by whom? Is it acceptable to go to my immediate supervisor for answers or feedback?

Local Perspective:

In the Thai culture, decisions are made from the top. Thailand’s governing system had always been absolute monarchy until 70 years ago when she started experimenting with democracy, with a constitutional monarch. Therefore, Thai people in the past had always been led by the kings and their appointees. Even after the change to democracy people still look up to "leaders" in the government or any organization to lead them, to make decisions for them and there is still widespread bribery and corruption in the current political and bureaucratic systems.

Therefore, most decisions are made at the top and transmitted down the hierarchical line of command to the workers who perform their duties as they are told. This way, nobody has to take any responsibility except the leaders, who are either feared or highly respected; nobody dares question them, anyway.

The system is changing, albeit slowly, especially among the better educated sectors. Middle management now plays greater role in decision-making. Delegation of power has not been a common practice, but experimentation with it is taking place, with varying results. Therefore, it is acceptable to go to your immediate supervisor for answer or feedback, but whether you get the right answer or feedback depends on his/her leadership ability, knowledge and experience.

Canadian Perspective:

From a Canadian perspective, decision-making process may not be very open—often I am confronted with a decision that has somehow been made but I have no immediate idea how. There are more likely to be informal discussions, leading either to some kind of consensus, or a decision by a superior that others defer to.

The generation of ideas is probably not that different from Canada except that people who are of lower status may not feel that they are in a position to promote their ideas, unless they have the appropriate links to higher status people.

As Thais may be less likely to broach sensitive topics directly than Canadians, it`s probably important to approach immediate supervisors so that miscommunications don’t go on and fester. But its also important to do so carefully: i.e. allow the supervisor to bring up problems in a way that is not directly critical of you.

Cultural Information - Religion, Class, Ethnicity, & Gender

Question:

Briefly describe the local culture’s attitudes regarding the following: Gender, Class, Religion and Ethnicity. What impact would the above attitudes have on the workplace?

Local Perspective:


Gender:
Thai culture is quite schizophrenic about the gender issue. On the one hand, females are put on a pedestal because they represent motherhood, which is deeply revered. On the other hand, Thailand is still very much a male chauvinistic society, since males have always been in the position of power. It is noteworthy that Thailand has never had a queen as the head of the kingdom. In theory, there is no cultural or legal restriction on the participation of females at any level of governance or corporate ranks. Indeed, Thai women play very active roles in the country’s economic system and the creation of wealth, especially at the grassroots level. Females dominate in certain professions or careers, e.g. teaching and sales. However, sexual equality in all respects still has quite a long way to go.

Religion:
About 95% of the Thais are Buddhist. Buddhism is a way of life, which permeates almost everything that the Thais think or do. Actions are usually weighed against Buddha’s teachings to determine whether they are right or wrong. Religious practices, rituals and ceremonies have great influence in the workplace. For example, new businesses have to be blessed by revered monks before they open for business. Large donations are given to temples each year for corporate or individual salvation. It is the culture, which may be viewed as either good or bad, depending on individual’s view on religion.

Class:
Class has become less important in Thai society. It used to be very important during the absolute monarchy. Now it is replaced largely by financial status. The old rich and nouveau riche create their own hierarchy of classes with the poor at the bottom. The upper classes (rich) tend to secure their status through nepotism in the workplace. The poorer classes often see the only way to move up the class ladder as buying their way up. Of course, there are those who get there through qualifications and hard work, but in general, the poor are left where they have always been.

Ethnicity:
Thankfully, the Thais have few ethnic problems among their own ranks, though the population consists of several ethnic groups such as the native Thai, the Chinese, and the Muslim. The Thais are usually friendly, generous and respectful toward foreigners, especially the Westerners. However, they are fiercely proud and independent people who would go to great lengths to protect their rights, freedom, society and country, if encroached upon in any way.

Canadian Perspective:


Gender:
Very open with respect to sexuality and alternative gender identities, but conservative with respect to open display of sexual interest. Thailand has had a number of gay prime ministers, for example.

Religion:
Very open. Buddhism, which most Thais identify with, is not a religion that invalidates other religions. From a Buddhist point of view, one could be both Buddhist and Christian (though the same is not really possible within Christianity).

Class:
Crucial. Cross class "friendships" are rare. But a "good" higher-class person acts as a patron to lower class individuals through favours, helping out. These acts are understood within the context of hierarchical relations. At the same time, the class system is relatively open, so that a poor person from a rural area can, through education for example, achieve similar status (within the context of a university, anyway) as someone of wealthier background.

Within government ministries, for example, factions can form around different graduating classes from key institutions, and alliances built across classes, with the older classes acting as patrons to younger ones. If a person has good links through these networks with a powerful individual in the organization, then they can be much more powerful than their formal position might suggest. Family connections are also very important, with connections to royalty being the most influential.

Ethnicity:
People pay attention but it’s not crucial in ordering relationships. Actually, in business relations the Chinese have ethnic-based networks that are important—I haven’t experienced this personally but it’s generally known.

Cultural Information - Relationship-building

Question:

How important is it to establish a personal relationship with a colleague or client before getting to business?

Local Perspective:

It is extremely important to establish a personal relationship with a colleague or a client before getting to business if one wants to succeed in a reasonable length of time and not have too many problems later. The Thais have a strong sense of security when dealing with friends or associates whom they know well. Personal trust and respect are very important in doing business. The Thais can be as devious as any others in dealing with strangers, especially those whom they don’t think they can trust. Many business ventures fail because the foreign partners do not understand the importance of personal relationships. Red tape, and often bribery, can be reduced quite considerably if a good relationship is first established with Thai partners. The relationship may take time to establish, and often it is best to do it through a third person. By going out for meals or playing sports together may lead to a better understanding about one another’s characteristics. Getting to know "the family" may or may not be necessary, but the Thais value considerations and generosity. If one offers genuine friendship, one is normally reciprocated, in time.

Canadian Perspective:

I’m an academic so my experience is largely in the educational/research worlds. In my experience personal relations are very important, as work relations are based in good part on trust rather than "enforceable contracts." But this may be changing, as business relations become more formalized. Knowing someone who can introduce you and vouch for you is very important—following your contacts. A successful experience around something smaller can lead to more significant activities.

Also, don’t get upset if your colleague is not very good at communicating long distance, via email etc. My experience is that I often have to show up (ie., phoning from somewhere in Bangkok or wherever) before people will set aside time to work with me. Although advance appointments are often necessary, impromptu contacts are also important and more acceptable than Canada where everything needs to be nailed down weeks in advance.

As everywhere, food and meals are important to establishing good personal relationships. Thais will talk about their families but are less quick to invite you to their homes than Canadians—don’t be bothered. Meals usually mean restaurants.

In a restaurant situation, one person normally pays for the meal—something Canadians can find very disturbing. There are a series of criteria which influence who is considered the appropriate person—who is the host, who is older, who is superior in status (work or otherwise). Where these criteria point to different people there may some mild dispute but open argument is considered rude. Its an honour to pay for a meal, and Canadians shouldn’t feel upset when a Thai insists or finds that the bill has already been paid just when the Canadian thinks its time to ask for it.

Cultural Information - Privileges and Favouritism

Question:

Would a colleague or employee expect special privileges or considerations given our personal relationship or friendship

Local Perspective:

In general, I would say yes. Connections are very important in Thai society for a person to move forward in his/her career, or to get employment. It is becoming slowly less so among the more educated groups, who would prefer to rely on their ability rather than connections.

Canadian Perspective:

Often. See above. This can create dilemmas, although they are for the most part resolvable in a manner that a Canadian would also find ethical.

Cultural Information - Conflicts in the Workplace

Question:

I have a work-related problem with a colleague. Do I confront him or her directly? Privately or publicly?

Local Perspective:

Never confront a colleague publicly on work-related problem. Saving face is very important to the Thais. If you make him/her lose face in public you will make an enemy for life. It is better to confront him/her privately, preferably with another person he/she respects to help smooth things out.

Directness is not normally in the Thai’s nature, especially if it would hurt other people’s feelings. Therefore, to avoid unpleasantness or hurt feelings the Thais would try their best to avoid direct answers. This may be interpreted as indecisiveness, or not wanting to make a stand, when in fact the person may have already made up his/her mind on what he/she wants to do. It can be frustrating to the Westerners, but patience is a virtue in such cases, and inquiring through a third person may produce a more direct answer. One needs to be quite diplomatic in exercising directness in conversation or negotiation, especially with strangers.

Canadian Perspective:

See answers for First Contact—not publicly! Privately, and in a way which doesn’t attack him directly. Be roundabout. Sometimes working though a third person is appropriate. Sometimes colleagues try to send you messages through a third person.

At the same time, these norms are changing fast. It may be more possible, depending on the particular workplace culture to openly discuss problems (but try to avoid "confronting").

Cultural Information - Motivating Local Colleagues

Question:

What motivates my local colleagues to perform well on the job?

Local Perspective:

In descending order, I would rank commitment, job satisfaction, loyalty, money, prospect for promotion, fear of failure, and good working conditions as motivating factors.

Canadian Perspective:

Job satisfaction, commitment, money, loyalty, good working conditions, and fear of failure are all motivators, as in Canada. But their relative importance may be different. Fear of failure or embarrassment is very important—even if you are dissatisfied with someone’s work, avoid any form of public embarrassment or you will never be forgiven. Loyalty, as I’ve noted above, can be central in large organizations such as government ministries. But I’ve also met many Thais with strong professional commitments, say, scientists, who are motivated by their commitment to some kind of scientific enterprise, international recognition and so on, with little regard for the organizational complexities and politics. I also work with NGOs staffed by people with strong commitments to different larger causes—the environment, poverty alleviation, etc. So there is a lot of variation. Of course, financial remuneration is often very important to job satisfaction.

Cultural Information - Recommended Books, Films & Foods

Question:

To help me learn more about the local culture(s), please recommend: books, films, television shows, foods and web sites.

Local Perspective:

Books: Red Bamboo by M.R. Kukrit Pramoj (translated to English by his brother M.R. Seni Pramoj)—a novel satirizing the conflicts between Thai Buddhist culture and a socialistic headman of a village during the Communistic expansionary era in Southeast Asia. M.R. Pramoj was a prolific writer greatly admired by most Thais for his entertaining style of writing and his breadth and depth of knowledge in Thai monarch, culture, economy, etc. gives the readers a This novel is particularly good and provides a glimpse into rural life in Northeast Thailand. There is also Monsoon Country by Pira Sudham—a novel about a village life in Northeast Thailand depicting the conflicts between the old and the growing materialistic way of life. Sudham was born in the Northeast and educated in New Zealand, Australia and UK. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature for his body of work, which was written mainly in English.

Traditional dishes: Tom Yam—a hot and sour soup with shrimp, lime grass and kafir lime leaves, very spicy. Pad Thai—a fried noodle dish with dried shrimp, fried bean curd, fried egg and vegetables; Kaeng Kheow Wan—a green curried meat dish, quite spicy; Kai Tom Khar—a chicken soup with coconut milk and lime grass, quite spicy.

Useful internet links: http://www.bizlinx.de/english/countries/thailand/structure.phtml; If you like to read Thai poem: http://www.geocities.com/Eureka/Gold/2271/; Bangkok Post: www.bangkokpost.com/today/130899_Business02.html

Canadian Perspective:

Books: My favourite book is Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker’s Thailand’s Boom and Bust. They take up cultural as well as economic changes, television, films, and thus provide a good lead into the other questions. A good general history is Charles Keyes’ book, Thailand: Buddhist Kingdom as Modern Nation-State.

Cultural Information - In-country Activities

Question:

When in this country, I want to learn more about the culture(s) and people. What activities can you recommend?

Local Perspective:

Unfortunately, without the knowledge of Thai language, it would be difficult for foreigners to follow Thai films or television shows. Temples, palaces, museums, tourist resorts, where cultural shows are performed, would be good places for a visit to learn about the culture. Participating in festivals, visiting local markets and villages to see how ordinary Thai people live, trying out Thai foods would also help one understand Thai way of life. Friends or colleagues would be better sources of information on Thai cultural activities and where to see and participate in them than tour agents or hotels. Thai Tourist Authority would also be a good source for various types of information you need.

Canadian Perspective:

Activities: Travel around the country? Thai’s love doing packed weekend trips to various places exhausting but fun.

Cultural Interpreter: Many Thais are interested in forming relationships with non-Thais, and being good hosts, so one may well appear. Key is to show an interest.

Cultural Information - National Heroes

Question:

Who are this country's national heroes?

Local Perspective:

The followings are current national heroes and the reasons why they are so:
King Bhumipol Adulyadej is the most revered person in the country, not only because he is the King, but mainly because of his tireless effort in trying to raise the standard of living and quality of life of his subjects, especially those in the rural areas around the country;
Queen Sirikit, for her work in setting up charitable foundations and vocational training schools for the less privileged to help them find gainful employment;
Princess Sirindhorn, who follows her father’s footstep in serving the people;
General Prem Tinsulanond, former Prime Minister and Statesman who served the country with strength and honesty and oversaw the period of most rapid economic growth and industrial development in the history of the kingdom;
Phra Payom, a popular Buddhist monk, who set up temples and schools for spiritual training of the underprivileged, and, especially, the youth.

Canadian Perspective:

As in Canada, who your hero is may depend on your interests. International sports stars (especially boxing) are important. But more important—there is a vigorous culture around singers and movie stars. Some members of the royal family are very much admired, others may not be but that is not discussed except with people you know. For some, past leaders who contributed to the opening of the political system may be heroes—student leaders, certain newspaper editors. There are a number of "respected elders"—older men mostly who worked for the government, or were academics etc. whose views are sought and listened to. This reflects the respect for age and experience.

Cultural Information - Shared Historical Events with Canada

Question:

Are there shared historical events between this country and Canada that could affect work or social relations?

Local Perspective:

Thailand generally considers Canada as a good friend among the Pacific Rim countries, who offers help without too many strings attached. Unfortunately, the failure of some development projects involving Canadian companies left some bitter taste on both sides.

Canadian Perspective:

Nothing major—Canada has a generally positive reputation and there no major events that would lead Thai’s to have a negative view of Canada. Although Canada has now largely withdrawn, in the past it was very active in providing development assistance, which has also left a positive legacy. Canadians are generally viewed positively as culturally compatible with Thais because insofar as there is a Canadian culture and insofar as Thais believe there are any differences at all, it is perceived as more restrained and less aggressive in terms personal interaction than US culture, and more sensitive to local norms (especially in dress) than Australian.

Cultural Information - Stereotypes

Question:

What stereotypes do Canadians have about the local culture that might be harmful to effective relations?

Local Perspective:

Most Thai people don’t know enough about Canada. It is considered too cold a country for the Thais to visit or live in. Most Thai students, for example, would not normally consider Canadian universities for their education, or Thai tourists as their tour destination, mainly because of this fear. Also, it is quite difficult and expensive to obtain a Canadian visa.

Canadian Perspective:

I’m not sure, as I’m not sure what stereotypes Canadians have of Thais. They might misinterpret unwillingness to engage in open confrontation the wrong way—a sense that something is going on without anyone telling them might lead to suspicion of conspiracies etc. Perhaps Canadians might interpret the importance of favours and helping as corruption. At the same time there is lots of corruption—the key is to distinguish real corruption from what Thais consider to be simply good manners.

In general, my final advice is that if the visitor doesn’t understand what is going on, it`s important to stay away from explanations based on stereotypes while at the same time understanding that Thais often deal with conflictual situations differently from Canadians, in ways that I outline above.

Cultural Information - About the Cultural Interpreters

Local Interpreter:

Your cultural interpreter was born in a village called Bangkhiad, the oldest of three children He was raised in this village in the southern province of Songkhla until the age of 11 when he moved to the city of Songkhla for his secondary education. He later moved to Bangkok to continue his studies at Kasetsart University and got a scholarship to further his studies in New Zealand, where he graduated with BSc and MSc in Food Technology from Massey University. Afterwards, your cultural interpreter immigrated to Canada to study for his PhD at the University of Alberta. He taught for two and a half years in Malaysia before returning to take up a position at the University of Alberta. He is currently living in Edmonton and is married with four children. Your cultural interpreter has lived and worked in several countries but has maintained close tie with Thailand. He returns to Thailand a few times a year as visiting professor in several universities. His cultural heritage is native Thai, with about 25% Chinese blood.

Canadian Interpreter:

Your cultural interpreter was born and raised in St. Thomas, Canada the youngest of six children. He studied Engineering at the University of Waterloo, and Development Sociology at Cornell University. His work sent him abroad for the first time in 1979 when he taught engineering in small university in Southern Thailand. Afterwards, your cultural interpreter went to the US, where he lived for six years. He has returned twice to Thailand, each time for eight months. He is currently living and working in Canada and has been living in Toronto for the last seven years.

Disclaimer

Country Insights - Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.

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