Marriage and Relationship between foreigners and Thais
In a number of my novels I go inside the relationship between a farang and Thai. In God of Darkness it was a middle-class relationship. In Minor Wife, it was a working girl turned artist. I recently was interviewed by the BBC for a radio program they are doing about such relationships.
In preparing for the interview I wrote down some of my thoughts.
In the 19th century, no one ever heard a little voice that said, hey my life is going nowhere in terms of relationships. Women in my town think I am too old. I am ignored, lonely, and what to spend my life with the woman of my dreams. So why not go to an Internet chat room or dating service and hook up with the perfect woman? Then run down to a bucket shop and buy a cheap airplane ticket to Thailand. Isn’t that kind like a theme park or something? The perfect woman is never more than 12 hours flight time away.
Part of the problem with globalization is the illusion that everything seems accessible, and at your fingertips, that you don’t need to do anything but show up. And everything will turn out just fine. Brits fly to Orlando and go to Disney World so they can visit fake European villages and castles. They could go across the Channel to France and see the real thing. But in Florida, everyone speaks English in the French village. It’s so much easier.
We live in an age of mass tourism. That means the masses are moving in huge numbers. What makes them go to Thailand or anyplace else? They see an ad, hear stories in the pub, watch or hear a program on the BBC. They have dinner sometimes in a Thai restaurant. This is what passes for self-education and enlightenment. If math and science had evolved this way we’d still go to barbers for leeches to rid ourselves of headaches. Globalization has unleashed a huge new base of women to meet. The problem is the gap between the women and the men is significantly more than a 12-hour plane ride.
There is a president of the United States who had never been to Europe until after he was elected. That is a metaphor for the modern world. Attack a place and then read about it later to figure out why you lost the war. Marry someone from a foreign land, and then find out what she is really about. War, marriage, politics, it is all pretty much the same issue. You have to be prepared. You have to know the terrain, the history over a long period of time, the values and beliefs of the people you want to kill, marry or take over.
Think of how governments and businesses go about training their employees. The British government enrolls their diplomats, spies, and civil servants to language school and sends them to cultural courses for a reason. Not to make them an expert but to make them familiar enough with another country so they can be effective. They wouldn’t give them a cheap ticket and just send them to Bangkok telling them not to worry. Just squint and pretend you are in Brighton. And talk really loud because all Thais understand English if you shout it at them. The same thing with multinational corporations, they spent billions on training of staff in what to expect and how to make them effective in managing others. Now that is just to do business. Marriage is a close up and personal activity. Yet people treated relationships with all the time and care of ordering junk food for lunch.
Think of the other side of the equation, from the Thai point of view. The latest plane from London arrives in Bangkok. They people on board don’t understand a word of Thai, they know nothing about the Thai culture or history. May be they saw a 30-minute documentary on the BBC about an elephant shelter or talked with a mate who spent ten days in the country and is now the resident expert. This makes them ready to form a relationship for life. Right?
Relationships fail everywhere and for many reasons. Failure makes people angry. When a marriage or relationships tanks emotions are raw. They start making wild generalizations from one failure to a general, universal rule. There have been studies that show in the West one in six solved homicides was one spouse killing another. Women are 75% of this body count. The figures hold across all social and economic boundaries. In Britain in 5 of every 100 marriages there is repeated systematic violence. Home Office statistics indicate that between 40 to 45% of murdered women are killed by their male partners. In Britain 2 women are murdered every week. 100,000 women per year seek treatment in London for violent injuries received in the home. And domestic violence in Britain is chronically under reported. The Home Office says domestic violence cost the country about 23 billion pounds a year. With this record, it should be the Thais who should be worrying about the Brits coming to Thailand. It’s not a brilliant track record in terms of domestic tranquility.
In the end relationship success is about class, education, cultural sensitivity, expectations, and a degree of luck and timing. There is no short cut. The Internet appears to create one. It works for some. To generalize that it will work for you is a risk. Recent surveys in Thailand show that 44% of Thai women who are of marriage age are single. Some of them are on chat rooms and dating services. But I venture to say most of them are not. The prevailing mood is summarized by this Thai proverb:
Mii luuk kuaan tuaa mii phuaa kuaan jai (Child Disturbs the Body, Husband Disturbs the heart)