The Thai custom of coercive social accommodation and favor-trading compared with the blessed American freedom to speak one’s mind

In an insightful and very well written response to Paul C. and Roland D.’s debate on Thai attitudes and their compatibility with America, a second reader married to a Thai woman (though living in the U.S., not Thailand) both agrees and disagrees with Roland D.’s criticisms of Thai culture. Here is his key passage:

Ultimately, I cannot share Paul’s judgment of Thailand as a place freer and more pleasant than America. Elements of what he says are true. I particularly like the fact that people can be very generous and kind; they possess a gentle sense of humor that is uncynical. They are ready to have good conversations and seem to be open to, and forgiving of, Westerners….

…. And yet one also comes to see that this constant Thai smoothing-over goes hand-in-hand with a kind of mental, familial, and social slavery. Thai society is held together by many strands, but a significant one is the constant, subtle fear of being perceived as ungrateful when one is prevailed upon. The prevailing-upon, the proactive favor-trading, the counting of social debt, and the calculated, pre-emptive avoidance of favors from others: this is a very tricky business, and one that would give most Westerners headaches to navigate. I honestly do love Thailand, but upon returning to the U.S., I often say how pleasant it is to “breathe Ohio again.” A significant portion of this comes from feeling the pressure lift from us. If only most Americans could feel this comparison; how forthright we can be with one another, and what a glorious condition it is!

Another commenter, B.B., criticizes both Paul and Roland for drawing caricatures of Thai culture on the basis of insufficient evidence. I reply that while caricatures are not desirable, how, in today’s liberal world, can we ever speak critically of a non-Western culture in a way that will not be considered a caricature?

Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 11, 2012 06:55 AM | Send

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