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  1. #1
    I am in Jail
    Butterfly's Avatar
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    Do Thais have a communication problem ?

    From the other thread about how useful is to learn Thai, it came to my attention that even when speaking perfect Thai, Thais will not really listen. In fact, I have observed this behavior many times over.

    Examples:

    - In the office: give instructions to staff in Thais, they don't do as being told and fuck it up
    - Contractors: ask them in Thai to do something precisely, they do the exact opposite, after saying "krap, krap" etc... 100 times

    It's not only with farangs, but I noticed the same things with Thais between themselves, they barely communicate with each other, only saying the minimum, no wonder many small miscommunication end up in big drama sometimes, they just don't talk. There is a small problem ? they don't say anything, they just accept it. A bigger problem ? again no talk but action is taken in the back, cowardly.

    Other examples:

    - Not saying hello to each other in the morning, unless others do it
    - Not really saying goodbye when leaving a home (even between relatives)
    - Not talking about a problem in greater details to find a solution, as soon as it becomes too detailed or complex, the conversation shutdowns.

    However they speak a lot when they are at the table eating, kind of strange isn't it ? and they enjoy silly gossips and will go at length on them, not keeping much silent, ironically. Likewise, they will speak for hours on telephone or mobiles but will say practically nothing to each others face to face,

    What's wrong with their language that would lead them to act like this ? could it be that they are missing the words to better express themselves and do not bother ? or is it that their society is so dysfunctional and noisy that they would better keep silent about their lives than add more noises to it ?

    I would like to understand such behaviors, as it seems very unproductive.

  2. #2
    Thailand Expat AntRobertson's Avatar
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    Eh? But if you can't speak Thai then how do you know?

  3. #3
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    I would say BF is pretty much right on this one. I have noticed it to a larger or lesser extent depending on the class, education etc, but it is almost always there. Whether it is not wanting to talk about it, unable to talk about it, too lazy, etc...

    It can work in your favour though, it's very easy to bring a work meeting to a quick close if you want ot go home... just bring up an important and unexpected topic and they will push you out of the door.

  4. #4
    Thailand Expat
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    Quote Originally Posted by NickA
    I would say BF is pretty much right on this one.
    Me too, but it's not very PC to say so.

    I guess that's why they have foreigners here when they really need to get things done.

  5. #5
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    Yes, the Cambodians and Burmese do work hard

  6. #6
    I am in Jail
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    Yes, Thai culture is different from what you were brought up with.

    Better learn about it, or spend the rest of your stay being a miserable twat and feeling superior - oh, hang on, I guess that's exactly what some have come here for.

  7. #7
    Thailand Expat Texpat's Avatar
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    Good observation OP. I've noticed this too.

    I've often thought that by opening their mouths, Thais believe they give away details of their very existence. Five words and a Bangkokian knows he's dealing with a southerner (from Songkla, likely a Muslim etc.) Or a Chonburi native is spotted instantly when he doesn't speak Issan in Udon.

    But that doesn't account for like-people speaking similar language. In these cases I suppose it's loss of face that drives the silence -- combined with a healthy dose of intentional ambiguity.

    If you're given instructions and have to ask a question to clarify -- either you're stupid or the instruction-giver is stupid. Better to just go and do the task incorrectly rather than expose someone as dumb. Likewise, if the instructions are perfectly clear and the project falls on its face, the boss has nobody to blame.

    In most western cultures, asking questions is often a sign of desire to fully understand the task. Here it's a sign of incompetence. The truth-avoidance trait also plays a part. The less you know, the more you're able to deny.

    Another thought is the heirarchy of kraps and kas fcuks people up. It seems sometimes they're concentrating on the proper level of ass-suck as much as the task at hand.

    Interesting thread. I have far more questions than answers. I think Thai is less precise than English but by how much, I don't know.
    Last edited by Texpat; 05-01-2008 at 03:25 PM.

  8. #8
    Mid
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    certainly would appear to be handicapped when discussing / expressing negatives .

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by stroller
    Better learn about it, or spend the rest of your stay being a miserable twat and feeling superior - oh, hang on, I guess that's exactly what some have come here for.
    It's OK for you, Germans feel superior wherever they are.

  10. #10
    bkkandrew
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    Completely agree with the OP. I have often opined that the soul destroying aspect of learning Thai is that once you do, you realise that they simply talk rubbish to each other.

    20 minute conversations about yesterday's lunch, yet a few ignored grunts about today's B100000 order.

  11. #11
    My kind of town
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    I think they have a big problem.

    Examples from just today -

    Go to the grocery store, and they have changed where everything is.
    The wife has the following conversations with some employees in the strore:
    Wife - where is the fruit juice
    Worker 1 - Alina ka? (what)
    Wife - where is the fruit juice?
    Worker 1-What kind of fruit juice
    Wife - nam som (orange juice)
    worker 1- alani ka?
    wife - nam som.
    worker 1- nam som?
    wife yes nam som.
    worker 1- nam som....thinks and then asks worker 2 where the OJ is.
    worker 1 where is the juice
    worker 2 what?
    worker 1 where is the juice?
    worker 2 what kind of juice>
    worker 1 orange juice.
    worker 2 what?
    worker 1 orange juice.
    worker 2 orange juice....thinks points to the opposite end of the store.

    We go to the opposite end - no juice. Speak to worker 3 and have the same conversation as above and then he gets worker 4 and they have the same conversation as workers 1 na d 2. Then they send us back to where we started. We finally find the orange juice at the back of the store no where near where workers 1,2,3, and 4 thought it was. Spent about 20 minutes to find the orange juice.

    Once we were told there were no cashews in the store. I was shocked. No cashews? We found about 100 bags of cashews on our own.

    Wife orders fried vegetables with out rice and tells the waitress twice. The cook was close by and she told her as well. She then ordered me American friend rice extra sausage instead of the ham and an extra chicken leg. Waitress just looks at her, so she repeats it twice. Waitress looks with that "nothing behind the eyes" look. We eat at this place often and the order is always the same. Waitress brings the food - fried vegetable WITH rice and American fried rice with ham and without extra chicken leg and sausage.

  12. #12
    Northern Hermit
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    Quote Originally Posted by Butterfly
    - In the office: give instructions to staff in Thais, they don't do as being told and fuck it up -
    Contractors: ask them in Thai to do something precisely, they do the exact opposite, after saying "krap, krap" etc... 100 times
    One is left to ponder if you have ever had work experience outside of Thailand?
    let me assure these things occur quite regularly all over the world.

    Some of your other points though do strike a cord. We could wax philosophical and get in the the structure of Thai society, talk about the different level of standing due to age, experience, economic classes, and how finding common ground in gossip, discussions of food, jokes about toilet activities, or other people makes for more animated conversations than the discussion of subject such as "have you completed your tasks on time?" or "when are you going to finish that damn report?" could be seen as confrontational or challenging. Thai society is still a feudal, caste conscious one in many respects.

    The work place is mixing bowl of people from different regions and tiers of society and without a clear understanding where each one lies in the pecking order opening your mouth could be either insulting or a loss of position/face.

    The language is imprecise and ambiguous even to Thai. Take the time to listen to them give directions to one another some time, or instructions of a semi-complex nature. Would be hilarious if it wasn't so frustrating.

    I could be way off base here and I am sure I have touched only on one minor aspect of the things complicating Thai - Thai communication and without more coffee (whisky?) in me I am afraid I just can't communicate much more of the subtleties affecting the subject.

    Ultimately, you have to learn that the situation exists and learn to accpet & deal with it, or avoid it. Where's the fun in that?
    When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty -- T. Jefferson


  13. #13
    watterinja
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    The major communication breakdown occurs because Thai folks don't listen to what is being said.

    Their concentration span is extremely short & in general, they only listen to, at most, the first 3-5 seconds of a conversation, or instruction. Immediately after that, their 'can do' logic kicks in & they move off to do what they think they heard.

    Invariably, they haven't taken in the full instruction & end up doing the wrong thing.

    Thereafter, the save face concept kicks in as a self-preservation mechanism, followed by it's your fault syndrome.

    This is a common problem trying to transfer technology to Thais - it is simply impossible! I refer to it as the concrete in head syndrome.

  14. #14
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    Pick any third world country and they are all the same. The labor is cheap, but not very productive. Interesting debate in the Newsweek edition 5 months ago about China boasting that it trains more engineers than the US each year. The flip side was that they might win on numbers but not on quality. No real innovation takes place in China compared to the US. Both have the titles but their abilities vary.

  15. #15
    watterinja
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    To be candid, I've found the Thais to exhibit the concrete-head syndrome, far more than any other Asian nation I've dealt with on a technical level, or even African nation, for that matter.

    Most nations will push back, even if reticent, if the correct buttons are pushed. The Thais are passive & basically shut down.

    It is this lack of push-back (response) during the communication phase, coupled with their insistence on doing things their own way (arrogance), that makes them unteachable.

  16. #16
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    maybe you are speaking too loud for them daiw?

  17. #17
    Tiger Bay
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    Fear is a factor in there as well. Fear of being found out in their ignorance of how to do something or to understand the easiest of instruction and inquiries.

    I'm not in Bangkok, but where ever you are in the sticks for sure your perfect Thai will not get you anywhere until they deem you not a threat to their cosy insular little world.

    For sure my Thai ain't good enough to understand everything by a long way, but I would not want to listen to the banal conversations of most village folk.

    Why,what, where,who, when and how questions are best left as reciprocal.
    "The supreme irony of life is that hardly anyone gets out of it alive."

  18. #18
    Thailand Expat
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    Quote Originally Posted by chitown View Post
    I think they have a big problem. ...
    Plobrem indeed, and no end of similar experiences but here's the background to one...about 5-6 years ago I was chatting with a farang friend (Bill) about Rambo-type movies that I never have time for, and happened to mention Bruce Willis and Swartzneggar also as being well OTT with a high credulity factor, but he pulled me up on this and said Arnie's films, though weaned on the same tit, are more intellectual and watchable and generally provide plausible if stretched explanations about things that don't fit in with the storyline.

    Anyway, he finally convinced me to watch Terminators 1 and 2, so off we go to BigC where he left me for some window browsing and I went into the video store...Lady says no have, thinks a moment then asks again for the title. That's how it was...I wrote it down for her in block caps, she studied the paper, reconsidered, and then confirmed they didn't have it. No big deal.

    Bill was approaching as I walked out, and I shrugged and said we should try the other shop because these people no have, at which his mouth dropped open as he stopped dead in his tracks and stared at me blankly, then looked over my shoulder to the shop and started shaking his head in disbelief...I turned around, and lo and behold the entire storefront was devoted to a special promo, Terminators 1 and 2 for 179 baht.

    Epilogue: We returned to the store where I politely beckoned the same sales lady outside, handed her the paper and gestured to the window...she compared what was written on the paper with the window display, shrugged as she muttered something in a rather uncivil tone, then led me in and sold me the movies like I was a serial rapist.

    TiT!

  19. #19
    Thailand Expat
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    Off topic i know, but, would some one please explain what TiT means?

    Actually maybe not too off topic. Would a Thai have asked this question, for fear off losing face? Im still learning about the intricacies of Thai culture.

  20. #20
    My kind of town
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    This Is Thailand TIT

  21. #21
    bkkandrew
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    Quote Originally Posted by astasinim View Post
    Off topic i know, but, would some one please explain what TiT means?

    Actually maybe not too off topic. Would a Thai have asked this question, for fear off losing face? Im still learning about the intricacies of Thai culture.
    This is Thailand...

  22. #22
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    ^&^^

    Thanks for clearing that one up.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by astasinim
    would some one please explain what TiT means?
    This is Thailand


    Quote Originally Posted by astasinim
    Would a Thai have asked this question, for fear off losing face?
    Yes, I would if I don't know it.

  24. #24
    I am in Jail
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    Quote Originally Posted by friscofrankie View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Butterfly
    - In the office: give instructions to staff in Thais, they don't do as being told and fuck it up -
    Contractors: ask them in Thai to do something precisely, they do the exact opposite, after saying "krap, krap" etc... 100 times
    One is left to ponder if you have ever had work experience outside of Thailand?
    let me assure these things occur quite regularly all over the world.

    Thai society is still a feudal, caste conscious one in many respects.
    I quite agree with your points, it happens everywhere, but in Thailand it's systematic, while in farang land it does happen erratically, so yes my examples were a bit of a stretch but we all understand what they mean.

    My theory of why most farangs think Thais are "stupid", it's not because they are inherently stupid (because they aren't) but because they don't communicate properly, might it be in English or Thai, and this seriously limit their capacity to think and act accordingly.

    Is it because they are lazy ? is it because the sun is cooking their brain ? it's probably part of the answer but not all.

  25. #25
    ding ding ding
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    Quote Originally Posted by keda
    lo and behold the entire storefront was devoted to a special promo, Terminators 1 and 2
    One of the first adjustments to make here is to disregard the farang idea that just because someone is working in a store that they might be in any way aware of that stores contents.

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