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Relationships in Thailand part 10

Paid Relationships in Thailand

Different strokes for different folks, as the saying goes. Your definition of a good relationship may be quite different from those of a different culture. We all assume that our way of thinking is the only correct one.

But this assumption can be shaken severely when you travel to other parts of the world. The concept of paying for a relationship may not agree with your way of thinking, but in Thailand this is quite common.

Putting the kids on the spot

I live in Thailand, and I am married to a Thai woman. She has two teenage children from a previous marriage. When someone finds out that their step father is a “farang”, a foreigner, typically the first (and mostly last) question is: “Is he rich?”

The kids don’t like to hear that, since they know I am not rich. But if they admit that to their friends, they lose face in front of them, and their status gets knocked down a few notches.

‘Why did their mother marry a foreigner if he is not rich?’ ‘What’s the use?’ ‘Bad choice, why didn’t she pick a rich one!’ To avoid those judgments, the kids are forced to lie or to evade the subject somehow.

Putting mom on the spot

When my wife is in a similar situation, she gets asked two questions:

  1. Is he rich?
  2. How much does he pay your per month?

If she says that I am not rich and that I don’t pay her for being my wife, again this would result in a loss of face and a loss of status for her.

How westerners respond

To westerners, these questions appear to be very strange. We just don’t think in those terms about relationships. My wife works mostly with westerners in her profession. When they find out that she is married to a westerner, they don’t ask questions about the relationship since they consider this intrusive, an invasion of privacy.

If the westerner knows my wife well, he or she might ask questions like

  • How nice, how long have you been together?
  • Do you get along well?
  • How did you meet?

But nothing about money – not one word ever! But for the Thais it is primarily about the money. Quite the opposite, and hard for us to relate to.

Privacy and curiosity in Thailand

Here in Thailand the concept of privacy is different from the West. Sometimes when my wife introduces me to a friend of hers, the other party exclaims: “Oh, he is handsome, I want one like him too! Good, he is not fat. How old is he?” This is done partly jokingly and partly out of sheer curiosity and with a child-like innocence that makes it impossible to be offended.

In the western world, such statements would be considered highly inappropriate or even offensive.

Money issues and family pressure

Money is often a primary consideration in relationships between western men and Thai women, which is by far the most common combination. Even if the woman is not expecting a “wife salary”, her parents will often put considerable pressure on her to extract money from her “farang” partner. This can put quite a strain on relationships.

I have several friends whose relationships suffer from this issue. The woman feels compelled to keep sending money to her family. If she does not, she will lose face and status in the eyes of her family.

If her family is really poor, there is a justification for this, but it can also happen that the family abuses this income stream by expecting an easy life through this goldmine.

There are regional differences in Thailand. A high percentage of Thai women who are married to foreigners come from Thailand’s northeastern province of Isaan.

This is one of the poorer regions of the country. Family bonds are very strong, and financial support by western men is a highly prized income source. The methods for obtaining that range from genuine need to dishonest and manipulative ways.

Options on how to handle financial pressure from the family

Here are some tips how western men can deal with this issue.

1. If you are rich enough that paying regularly for your wife’s or girlfriend’s extended family is not an issue – just pay.

2. If you are not so wealthy, you have two choices. The first one is that you agree to support the family, but there have to be clearly established limits.

It cannot be an open ended arrangement where you are constantly called upon to cover an unending stream of real or pretended emergencies. Once you allow that to happen, you will always feel the pressure of constant and unexpected financial obligations.

You need to establish your boundaries right in the beginning of the relationship, not later in response to the frequent requests for money. If you first pay freely, and then cut back later, you will be seen as “keeniao”, a miser. It will reflect badly on your wife/girlfriend and it will be a constant source of friction.

3. If you cannot afford paying for family, or if it really goes against your grain to do so – if you just don’t want to have the obligation to be financially responsible for an entire family, then you have to make this very clear to your wife/girlfriend. She will mostly expect you to follow “Thai culture”, but let’s clarify this.

Is it really Thai culture?

It is part of Thai culture to support elderly parents. However a constant pressure on the husband to support an extended family and cover regular emergencies is not part of Thai culture.

The reason is that the rich-husband-poor-farming-girl-from-Isaan relationship which is very common between western men and Thai women does not really exist in Thai society at all.

Most Thais marry within their social environment. The scenario of a wealthy Thai man marrying a poor girl from a simple farming family practically does not exist.

Therefore when your Thai wife/girlfriend tells you that you should follow Thai culture and pay all the time, she is not so much reflecting Thai culture, but rather the typical Thai attitude that all westerners are rich and are walking ATM machines.

Suggestions what to establish right in the beginning of the relationship

  • you are not Thai and have no intention of totally following Thai culture
  • your own cultural background is different, but just as valid as Thai culture
  • your values do not allow for supporting her entire family
  • either she loves you for who you are, without the financial pressure, or it won’t work for you
  • you agree to a relationship with her and only her
  • you expect her to acknowledge and respect your culture and your way of thinking as much as you respect hers. It cannot be a one way street in favor of Thai culture, especially in regards to money. You will end up resenting it.
  • you both agree to meet somewhere in the middle of the two cultures
  • you do not accept responsibility for her extended family
  • make it clear that for you love and money do not go hand in hand

Establish clarity right from the beginning

I am not saying that you should insist on all these points. As in all relationships, the two partners have to acknowledge their differences and meet somewhere in the middle.

But I am saying that if you do not clarify your position and set your boundaries right from the start, there is a good chance that it will end up hurting your relationship sooner or later.

Once you allow a financial pattern to be established on your Thai partner’s terms and based on her understanding, it will be very difficult to change it.

Since in most cases she has never left Thailand, and knows very little, if anything about other cultures, she therefore has no idea how you are thinking and where you are coming from. She is a victim of the common misconception that all foreigners are rich and should pay as much as possible.

It is not about right and wrong, but about how to make it work

It is best to rectify this perception right from the beginning and establish clear boundaries what you are willing to do and what not.

Establish the fact that your way of thinking is as valid as hers. This can go a long way towards increasing your chances of having a successful cross-cultural relationship with a Thai woman.

This is not an issue of right or wrong, good or bad. If you would have grown up in cultural isolation with little or no direct experience of other ways of thinking and living, then you would be thinking and feeling just like her. This is also not exclusively a Thai attitude, but is fairly common in many developing countries.

Cultural differences can be dealt with effectively. I am telling you this as someone who has been in the best relationship of his life with a Thai woman for almost a decade. Good luck to you too!

You can find the previous articles in the relationship series here:
Relationships in Thailand Part 1
Relationships in Thailand Part 2
Relationships in Thailand Part 3
Relationships in Thailand Part 4
Relationships in Thailand Part 5
Relationships in Thailand Part 6
Relationships in Thailand Part 7
Relationships in Thailand Part 8
Relationships in Thailand Part 9

image of the the author, Shama KernThe author, Shama Kern, has been living in Thailand for well over a decade. His wife is Thai and they have created a successful cross cultural relationship. You can reach Shama at [email protected]

20 thoughts on “Relationships in Thailand part 10

  1. Hello there, as a Thai man growing up in central Thailand many called a priviledged I can’t claim I knew it all but I can offer what I knew. To most Thais from northern part of central Thailand downward, they used to called Isaan people ‘Khon Lao’ meaning Laotians. Khon Isaan as most are accustom to refering these days but you knew what some internal translating machines say. Deprived by being recognized as second class citizens of advancement opportunities in all aspects of life. Thai lastnames suppose to be something you’re pround of but in most cases in also lend itself to a silent practice of prejudice and (oh, forgive me) racism. Things are 100 times better now than it was when I was a kid but overcoming the practice of profiling and stereotyping do take time.

    My family was fortunate enough to also have a huge farm in the North growing bean, cotton, corn,lumbers and whatever it allowed. We employed worker from Isaan. Thank goodness for my parents who never treat those workers families as just employees from ethnic minority. They are part of our family, I was told. I was allowed to visit, eat and play with their children. My friends can come and go and eat with us. While I was gone to a boarding school those Isaan friends of mine become my mom children. My mom eventually fluent in Isaan dialect and so was I, after a few visit. I would visti the farm during my school break.

    During the Vietnam war there are influx of young women to enter various services created by US military based. Unfortunately, that includes sex workers industry. Thanks to Worlb Bank suggestion fot the Thai government to find service for 16 billion Baht a year the bringing in to the country.

    Some servicemen to prefer to stay with the same sex for hire partners so came a wife for hire otherwise known as ‘Mia Chao’. Two most Thai, Mia Chao or rented wife also mean Isaan women. Thank to beautiful humand hearts, some GI decided to marry their long term rented wives. Thai children were taught to take care of their parents North, North-eastern, Eastern Central, Southern are all the same way. So, with there GI’s husbands money were available for those women to help out their family. This, however, lead to believe that all foreigner are rich-compare to Baht the local are earning they are rich.

    Then came my teenage years in Jujior High School, without my parents knowlegde, I was a journey man Thai Boxer-it was good paid hobby. The Gym had to schedule my bout out ot town as it against school rules. So, I would often boxed at the stadium near Takhi Air Base. Here, I have learned to understand another fact of life for Thai Isaan men. Perhaps, this is somewhat benefitial to some of you Western men out there.

    On a weeknight bout as soon as me and my fellow boxers(another 2-3 gymmates) were done, we would board a waiting sedan and ruch back so I can catch some sleep get to my dorm took a shower and to go class. But after one weekend night I decided to stay and travel back by bus so I had a chance, for the first time, to visit morning market in town. I saw several women walked by some with GI’s some by themselves but occasionally being grabbed by passing by GI’s in places Thai men would not do in public even if the women are prostitutes. As those women walked by a group of rick-shaw drivers, who were evidently, men from Isaan. I could here they utter words of displeasure directing towards those women witch whom untouchable to them. This is resenment still exist today from Isaan men to Isaan women and often to their Western husbands and lovers. So, this is something to bear in mind.

    Isaan women, in my opinion, are very beautiful and the whole package are so love, by package I meant personality and the way they cary themsleves-please don’t get me wrong here.

    Having been in a Western environment for so long, I truely understand why Western men would want to be with them. Just bear in mind, also, that they were brought up in a culture that despite huge improvement, deep down inside some of them still feeling the effect of socially inferiority. So, when taking them places like Bangkok or others metropolitant city or town in which you gentlemen may feel comfortable and treated well; they may face certain silent scrutiny and unease situation only them and those who they face understood the unspoken language.

    Best of luck!

    • Thanks Nirnam for another informative post. Yes, it is very true that there are lots of relationships between western men and Isaan women. Western men like the darker skin of Isaan women, whereas many Thai men prefer the lighter skin tones (this has led to the whitening cream mania among Thai women).

      I myself am married to a Thai women from the south of Thailand. She is quite dark skinned as well, and I have seen prejudices by Thais against her simply because of her skin tone.

      However things are changing, at least in the bigger cities like Chiang Mai, where we live. There is a lot of cultural mixing here: Thais from Chiang Mai, lots of Burmese, lots of people from Isaan, many hill tribe people, and lots of farangs (Westerners). At least I hope that this will result in more acceptance of differences.

      There is definitely prejudice and racism in Thai society, but you can say that about most countries in the world. It is one of those human shortcomings to look at the outside of people instead of into their hearts and souls where we don’t look different anymore.

      I have seen improvement in this matter, at least where I live, and I hope that it will continue. I am also very happy to see a Thai man like you contribute so much interesting and valuable information to this blog.

  2. Dear Shama,
    I find your insights very helpful. I’m married to a Thai lady and I’ve been in Thailand for six years now and I feel your analysis is spot on. Might you know of a Thai version of this or a similar analysis? I have a copy of ‘Thailand Fever’ a guide for Thai/Farang couples written in both Thai and English but I find your analysis slightly different and better. I’m particularly impressed by the points made in bullet form.
    I could of course get it translated. I want my wife to read it too.
    My wife really wants me to adapt fully to Thai all ways and it’s just not possible.

    • Hi Richard,

      thanks for your comment. You hit the nail on the head: It is not possible for us to fully adapt to Thai ways, and unless the Thai woman understands this, there will be problems sooner or later.
      After all, what would she say if you insisted that she fully adapt to western ways and thinking – she could not!

      Unless both parties compromise and meet somewhere in the middle, the relationship will always feel somewhat lopsided.

      There are a number of books about Thai-western relationships on the market with different perspectives. Like you said, my angle is again different.

      It is quite easy and inexpensive to get something translated in major cities in Thailand. That would work and might help in the communication process between the two of you.

      I would feel happy and honored if my writings can add something positive to your relationship.

  3. I couldn’t agree with you more. Being a Thai but acquainted with the foreign society, I would also like to convey these messages and feeling which I believe is similar to most of the “farangs”. I suggest you make a Thai translation and post it at the right spot.

    • Thanks for your comment and your suggestion. I will look into getting it translated. I agree, maybe many Thais will find it interesting to get an insight into the ways how foreigners are thinking.

      • I hope this is ok to do, and isn’t seen as shameless advertising, but I do have a blog that gives tips in English for westerners seeking Thai women, and tips in Thai for Thai women seeking western men.

        The girl who writes the Thai side of the blog is a good friend, very cool, and highly educated. From the bit of Thai that I can read, a lot of this comes through in her writing. Post the link if it’s ok, if not, sorry to post it. I thought it was relevant 🙂

        http://www.thaiforlove.com/thaidatingblog

  4. a brilliant bit oof truth
    i have recently married a thai girl from kalasin and i know the pressure her family put on her to extract as much cash from me
    especially her son and younger sister
    i have tried to support her and i am not rich , i have tried to explain that to save for a future i can only afford to send 2000 baht to top up her wages to 11000baht
    she also ownfarm land with her family and grow crops with a good anual harvest
    on ocassions i have given more but sometimes the demands can get slly and then i see her mood change
    any suggestions on trying to explain would be grateful

    • That’s a very typical scenario unfortunately. The only advice I have is to stick to your guns and put your foot down. Personally I think the best strategy would be to send a fixed a amount and never change it. At some point they will get used to this. If you sometimes give in to pressure to send more, then this will never stop and it will be a constant source of friction. At some point your wife will have to make the choice if she loves you enough to side with you in this matter.

      I know how hard it is for her to stand up to her family and not be a conduit for constant money demands. But if she does not stand up to it, first of all it will never be a happy relationship and second you will never know if she loves you for who you are or for the economic support you provide. I know this sounds a bit harsh, but I have found it to be true and in my opinion it is the only way to clear the cobwebs out of your marriage. I mean, do you really want to live in a situation where you are constantly subjected to financial demands by your wife’s family?

      Practically the only way to help your wife stand up to her family is to physically remove her from her family environment. I don’t know your situation, but if she lives in the same neighborhood with her family, then she has no chance to cope with this. If she lives somewhere else, then she can gradually get used to the fact that this financial pressure tactic is not a universally accepted practice.

  5. I’ve heard about this before…people asking wives how much they get paid per month. That’s way beyond me to be honest. It’s a job…but getting a salary seems quite strange as a wife/mother.

    • Emily, Your statement, although I can understand you, represents to me a reflection of what is bad about western society. As you say, being a good wife and mother is a job. I would venture to say it is a big job, and an important one. Yet western women get no compensation, recognition or appreciation. Ever been at a party and been asked ‘so what do you do?’. If you reply that you are a housewife, just watch their eyes glaze over. The concept of equal pay for equal work hasn’t been satisfactorily addressed in the west, and the inequality at home could br the template for the inequality in the larger part of society. Pay for the wife maybe should be a concept that isn’t so strange to us, in a better world.

  6. Lol this is really similar to Philippines. I met a woman from the North of Thailand who had worked in Pattaya. She told me that she had huge problem about her parents always pushing her to give money and more money while her father is not working and waiting for monthly support from her farang. Her parents pushed her into wrking at walking street and it had really fucked her mind.
    Her and I had similar situation . As a Filipina my parents were also pushing me to marry a foreigner to help them. I disobeyed them and always had argument with them of marrying a foreigner to give what they need. I am not the cause for their poverty so why do I need to suffer from their wrong decisions in life?

    I think thAT very submissive good daughters must think out of the box and do things that they really want for their future. Parents do not have the right to mislead us in wrong path!

    • I agree with you Yuri. The problem is that in southeast Asia the family connection is very important and it is quite difficult for the daughters to resist this pressure from her family. There are parts of Thailand, especially Isaan, where this is like a business, to push your daughter to find a “rich foreigner”. Often the woman ends up between a rock and a hard place, namely her husband and her family. Not a good situation for her. If she gives in to her family, she might ruin her marriage. If she sides with her husband, she loses face with her family.

      • So you lose face with a lazy parasitic family, big deal. What is wrong with these people that they can’t take care of themselves? A friend of mine married a nice Asian woman but the family was horrendous, never satisfied even though he settled their debts and gave them thousands of dollars and they were abusive to him. And not very nice to me as they assumed that as I was female, I was his girlfriend – we were just friends. His wife’s brother was a useless drunk, when his own wife left him, he just went out drinking and my friend was the one who had to take care of the brother’s baby.
        These parents who pressure daughters to marry rich guys simply because they want an easy life are selfish and verging on evil

  7. Carrie, that’s easy to say for us – “what’s the big deal about losing face”. It’s not a big deal for us, granted. However for the Thais it is a really big deal. It is bred into them their entire life. I have a female Thai friend who basically cannot go back to her village anymore because she resisted her family’s pressure to get money out of her foreign husband. Family relationships are strong in Thailand and it is really hard for the Thais to go against that.

    • I’d say she’s better off without them and good for her resisting pressure to exploit the husband. He is not responsible for them. Are they suddenly disabled because the daughter is with a farang? It’s never easy to go against family, and most people can’t, but a lot of what I’ve seen of face is pretty shallow. A la kids must have fancy motorbike to ride to school – when they could easily walk – because they’ll lose face. Yes, must keep face and let some incompetent idiot keep building things even his results are really shoddy. The more I see of face the more I value directness and merit-related reward.
      This I don’t get: If family is so important, then surely you love them even if they don’t want to prostitute themselves out for your benefit?
      The whole Asian/Western interface seems pretty skewed – I am tired of being told that Western = bad, when I see many Westerners trying to understand Asian cultures and being sensitive to their values and I don’t see Asians trying to understand anything outside their direct interests. I have been living in Asia for a while now and I cannot get over how self-absorbed most Asians are. Just walking down the street is a trial because the concept of making way for others and sharing the space seems too much for them and surely it is just basic courtesy. On a narrow footpath in Bangkok I’ll move aside to let someone pass and they walk into me. Someone bashed me with their car door the other night. And don’t get me started on the driving.

      • Well, what can I say, I can relate to many of your points. I think the reason why many Asians expect us to understand their culture and they don’t make much of an effort to understand ours is two fold. One is that we are of course in their country, and the second is that most of them have never left their country.

        We have the advantage of having left our countries and we have seen and experienced a lot in other places, whereas most of the Thais never had such experiences. Most of them have never left Thailand.

        However this changes when you talk to educated Thais who have traveled. That changes the dynamics of the relationship. Of course most of the people we run into on a daily basis don’t fall into this category.

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