A Retiring Attitude

 |  April 30, 2010

Not long ago I read letters in the ‘Your Say’ section of Chiang Mai Citylife from several readers bemoaning the fact that they have not been able to find Thai people to have intelligent conversations with about any subject more interesting than what they have eaten lately. It is a common complaint. I wondered about this since I have no problem having fulfilling conversations with my Thai friends, as well as with market ladies, taxi drivers, and even my golf caddies. So what is the difference?

Typically, Thais are quite up to date on topics as wide-ranging as current events to the latest Thai and Korean soap opera stars. Those old men arguing at the local watering hole are not always talking about who is better, Man U or Liverpool. They could be pontificating on which colour shirt they should support, or whether the movie Avatar is really about Lord Krishna or not, or how karma works, or the etymology of a Thai slang word, or even how many varieties of mangoes they can name. All the above are conversation topics that I have heard or been part of recently. But for some reason this does not come across to the typical expat here.

Thais have conversation topics that they discuss with their casual acquaintances. But most of these revolve around food and the weather. Sort of exactly the way it is in any culture. Thais especially don’t reveal their true feelings to just anyone. They have to feel close and trusting. Unlike in the quite informal west, this usually doesn’t happen in Thai relationships until people have known each other for many years.

But mostly it is the language. The majority of Thais I know, including good English speakers, and quite a few people who have spent years in the west, would rather speak in Thai when the topics get serious. So for those lamenting the paucity of good Thai conversationalists here, the solution is simple. Learn Thai. Well, maybe that’s not very simple. It will take some work. But as your Thai ability increases you’ll be surprised at how many good Thai conversationalists begin to emerge.

For further information about retiring to Thailand check out Hugh’s site www.retire2thailand.com.

Hugh’s advice for the month:
I knew an older Chinese immigrant woman who lived in New York’s Chinatown, and because she didn’t need to, she never learned to speak English. And she never once had an interesting and fulfilling conversation with any Americans. Learning the local language has lots of benefits.