May 28, 2016
When discussing Thai culture the conversation inevitably turns to “losing face” or “saving face” as it is such a big part of Thai society. Although to most non SE Asian people the concept is strange and maybe even seen as ridiculous, here in Thailand it is both real and in evidence all around you.
To most westerners the same ideology is seen simply as ones ‘Honor or reputation’. But in Asia and especially Thailand it is far more and is even blamed for the high rate of gun violence in the Kingdom.
The basics behind this exaggerated phenomena in the Kingdom, is no Thai believes they can afford to lose face, (by being embarrassed or made to look like a fool by others). While this is also the same for most of the world, in Thailand they just take it to a different level.
In its simplest of terms many Thai’s will smile broadly to deflect from the fact that they do not know what to say or do in a specific situation and if pushed, it is common to hear Thai’s saying “yes” when they mean “no” or more over don’t know. The smile also serves as a means for beneficiary, of the smile to also not to lose face. This is very common when Thai people are asked to make on the spot decisions or when a westerner makes a mistake in such things as Wai the wrong person or dropping other cultural and unintended clangors.
Many outsiders will see this as false and counter to the Thai faith, as Buddhism does not encourage face-saving activities, in the scriptures accepted by Thai Buddhists, whilst the Buddha often encourages his audience to be truthful, he never teaches that they should save face.
Saving face is also very important in terms of ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ in Thailand having the latest of anything and being seen as anything other than poor or a ‘Cheap Charlie’ “khee niao” (Thai), is possibly more important here, than in most other parts of the world. Even again if this does not sit well with Buddhist beliefs, it’s fair to say that in Buddhism, greed is not good. Greed is one of the Three Poisons that lead to evil (akusala) and that bind us to suffering (dukkha). It also is one of the Five Hindrances to enlightenment.
In Thailand (and Asia) it is more common for its people to be flashy with money especially in the presence of family or friends, combine this with the Thai beliefs in living for today and you can hopefully glimmer why saving face is so important to its people