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Cross cultural communication understood by a 55 year old north-eastern Thai lady (25 October 2005) Back to stories index

I was born in a mooban (village) in Khon Kaen province, north eastern Thailand, and educated at home and in a primary school. Since childhood I helped my parents in the paddy field and vegetable yard which had been my world for long time until reaching middle age. I now live and help my farmer husband who is still actively working in the farm. We have two children: a boy and a girl, and a grandson.

When my second child reached 3 years, I came to Bangkok to start working as a maid cum cook. Since that time I had been living together and serving the rich Thai and expatriate families on and off for over 20 years. Working as maid and cook gave me more income than growing rice. I also had great chance to learn some English which is a must if you want to work with foreigners. But more than half of my employers are well to do Thais. At each family I would work for at least 2 years and up to 6 years if things went along OK. Working long time in a family gave me close relation with the children of the host. All children I worked for were nice, sweet, and educated. Sometimes they told me their secrets that they would even not tell their parents.

Many times I compared these children with my own. I also thought about the stuff like thesis and term papers these kids were doing to get their school certificates and credits. I have found something really strange and perhaps amazing. Below I point out for you - the young generation of today Thailand to think about when you do any kind of study or research whether for your school or whatever.

1. Assertiveness study
I am refering to two families in which there were university students studying for communication art or something similar. Few of their research papers included elements about "assertiveness of people" and its use for productivity. Assertiveness could create problems as well as profits. All these students concluded that Thai people were generally less assertive. I was wondering.

Why? Because when once I worked in a large house along with two Cambodian girls I did not see any lower degree of assertiveness in the Thai owner family toward these two poor girls. These kids took care of the garden, the imported dogs, fish in the ponds, laundry and cleaning the house. They worked from sunrise till 8 or 9 in the evening. But the family including their children (University students) always shouted at the kid workers. Once I saw these Cambodian girls being beaten because they forgot to change the water in the flower pot beside the Buddha image.

They were given very small wages and minimum food perhaps of lower quality than their dog food. At one time western friends of the children of the house came and stayed together for a couple of weeks. The landlord children and their western friends also went to the north for a tour. One day I saw the western friends packing a bronze or brass Buddha image inside shoes in a box to be sent to their other friends overseas. I was amazed to see both the parents and children of the Thai family making no comments on this! They were all Buddhists, but they just smiled and said nothing.

In yet another case a teenage girl of my employer family was preparing to study in England. She found the accommodation in Liverpool and sent payment by check to book the room for a year. The cost was 300 Pound (about 22000 Baht) per month for a 16 square meter bed room in a flat. Living room and kitchen were shared with others. I knew she had never before been to Liverpool and had never seen the flat she was booking. And now she was paying full which was completely non-refundable for the whole year. After the payment was done she never received a receipt nor any acknowledgement for her payment. But then the whole family was never thinking my way. They were happy that their daughter would soon be UK graduate. I remembered just few months back when the parents went to visit Luang Prabang (Laos) they refused to pay the room charge they booked before they arrived at the hotel. They emailed the Lao tour agent then that they were afraid they would just lose the money, and that they wanted to pay only when they checked into the room.

There are more on this subject. I think assertiveness is somewhat more or less relative. We Thais are generally less assertive when dealing with people from the US or UK or Europe, but we could be (very) assertive when communicating with Lao or Cambodian people. Ofcourse there will certainly be other facts such as social status, rank, education or skill level, age, and culture. I really want our children to think wide and deep rather than looking on only a small area and completely forgeting the whole world - and then say they have done it!

2. Company preference survey
That was the title of a term paper prepared by the daughter of my third host family in Bangkok. She surveyed the final year students, fresh graduates as well as those in their first few years of employment what company and management style they prefered to work with and why. The result was majority pointing towards companies with western management, western bosses because they thought those organizations gave them more freedom and chance to excel.

In the next family I worked with there was a daughter looking for job. One night I saw her crying very deeply in her room. There were at least 4 empty cans of beer on the floor, and the room was in a mess. Later I found out that she was not selected to work for a foreign company which imported alcoholic drinks, that she went for interview two times. When she was called for the final second interview she was really happy and quite sure she would get the job. But then a week later the sorry letter arrived and the girl was heart broken.

I was amzaed again. What happened? Do you think something was missing? To tell the point I want our children to think more than they do now. In the case of career and job, in addition to whether the company is managed in western or asian style they should also take into at least a little consideration the products and services of the company and their effects whether good or bad on us, appropriate or inappropriate, ethnical or not, etc.

3. More independent ladies
Nowadays I read and hear many times that we ladies are getting more independent. Thus there are shampoo and cosmetic for independent working ladies between twenty and thirty. They go on to say that because we are now more educated, have own income and thus become much more independent than ladies in the past. These messages come to me like nails without hammer or screw-driver without screws. I think saying just "we are independent" is totally incomplete or it is sending an unfinished message. I would suggest people use something like "A" is (more and more) independent from "B", but (more and more) dependent on "C". Imagine yourselves what/who are A, B, and C.

Are you trained to look only a little? Are you trained to look only a little?

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