By Thomas J. Knutson

excerpts from: http://www.fulbrightthai.org/data/cc43/TALES%20OF%20THAILAND.doc

with some key thoughts put into bold letters

More than any other attraction, the Thai people make their country the most civil and sweetest place in the world. "The Land of Smile" is not just a tourist slogan; it's real. Thais are nice people. Other countries of the world may excel in economic power, military strength, and technological ability, but Thailand surely leads the world psychologically. The gentleness and genuine charm of the Thai people serve as a model for the enjoyment of diversity and the acceptance of differences. Of course, we must recognize that not all Thai people behave consistently in a fashion compatible with Thai cultural values. Having made that disclaimer, however, the Thais I've been privileged to meet are the nicest people I have found in any of the more than thirty countries I've visited. My challenge is how to explain that to you in a fashion consistent with intercultural and cross-cultural sensitivity.

You may have read about the various theories of social attraction, a popular variable in communication research. McCroskey and McCain (1974) provide an interesting method of describing the ways in which people become attracted to one another. The technique adapts itself well to a preliminary examination of Thai people. McCroskey and McCain identify three dimensions of attraction: physical, task, and social. Physical attraction relates specifically to physical appearance, and is considered as the catalyst for conversation. Thai beauty is legendary. Countless visitors from around the world have been charmed by Thailand's "physically attractive people and their beguiling ambiguity" (Kulick & Wilson, 1992, p. 1). Thai people, with their ready smiles, dancing eyes, and impeccable personal hygiene have little trouble in attracting others for conversation. McCroskey and McCain explain that the physical attraction dimension is insufficient to maintain a relationship; the concern moves quickly to either social or task attraction.

The international mark of friendliness, the smile, enables Thais to switch quickly to matters of social attraction. Spontaneous displays of happiness and sensitivity are hallmarks in Thai society, and visitors readily become fascinated with Thai hospitality. I have yet to meet a foreigner in Thailand who was not amazed at the quality of social relationships, the real "stuff" of interpersonal encounters. You will be astounded with the ease of talking with Thai people and their unique ability to display rhetorical sensitivity. The number one cultural value of Thailand is social harmony (Komin, 1991), a quality that can teach the world intercultural communication effectiveness, Thais are "other-oriented" in their conversations, an appealing characteristic for most foreigners. On the task dimension, Thais are noted for their long history of accomplishment. Work for the Thai, however, is an insufficient motivation. In order to develop true task attraction, the Thai must have sanuk (fun) while engaged in chores and duties. Thailand taught me a big lesson about work. If I don't like to do something, I don't do it or find someone else to do it. If I must do something I don't like doing, I make a rewarding and fun activity contingent upon completing an odious task. That simple lesson evaded me for years until I lived with Thai people.

The USA emerged as the most individualistic culture in the world, an importance of the "I." Thailand is a highly collective culture emphasizing "We" in all aspects of communication. The most important Thai value, social harmony (Komin, 1991), contrasts sharply with the USA emphasis on success and achievement, values measured by the acquisition of material things. Buddhist teaching forms the basis for the Thai genuine care and concern for others, an idea known as nam jai ("water of the heart") which seldom allows Thais to see strangers as threatening or suspicious. The Thai term kreng jai, refers to the desire to be "self-effacing, respectful, and extremely considerate as well as the wish to avoid embarrassing others or intruding or imposing upon them.

One of the more delightful lessons Thai culture can teach involves their cautious attitude toward words. In fact, there is no literal equivalent in the Thai language for the English word "no." In Thailand, people say, "not yes." Thais value moderate __expression and an avoidance of confrontational or negative messages, not surprising given their emphasis on social harmony. Most Thais find something of value even in the most difficult situations. Overt displays of anger jeopardize social harmony in Thailand, and indicate ignorance, immaturity, and vulgarity. The Thai desire for smooth interpersonal relationships can be seen in the Thai __expression jai yen, the talent of remaining calm and in control of one's emotions even during difficult situations. And it is this value of smooth and pleasant interpersonal interaction that gives Thai people the image of being very 'friendly' people, and Thailand, the 'Land of Smile' The soft-spoken politeness of the Thai can contribute to a greater understanding of interpersonal sensitivity throughout the world. The phrase you will often hear in Thailand, mai pen rai (contented, never mind, or "it doesn't matter") and condition of arom dii (always smiling) both display the great importance Thais place on social harmony.

Cultures rated high on masculinity evaluate people based on their performance and acquisition of material things. Low masculinity, or feminine cultures nurture people and emphasize the quality of life as central to their being. Given the Thai emphasis on social harmony, you should not be surprised that Thailand falls on the feminine, or nurturing end of Hofstede's masculinity-femininity category. Komin (1991) describes a successful Thai personality as, "one of competence and substance, but most important of all, has to have a. soft and polite appearance, presentation, and approach" (p. 146). Bunkhun (the reciprocity of goodness) occupies a prominent place in Thai interpersonal relationships. Kindness elicits gratitude, and bunkhun is the very foundation of friendship.

In Thailand, personal assertiveness, overt self-confidence, lack of feelings for others, and expressions of superiority elicit mai sai, a mixture of disgust and suspicion. The Thai compassion and nurturing can best be seen in the Kingdom's schools and system of education. Learning is seen as more valuable than material success, and people associated with knowledge and education are highly respected and esteemed. Teachers and professors occupy the top of the Thai social hierarchy.

Thailand can offer the world some amazing psychological techniques to improve the human condition and to increase intercultural communication effectiveness. The Thai ability to display gentleness and respect for all human beings can certainly improve our lives. The freedom from aggravation, the avoidance of criticism and conflict, the rejection of harsh words, the ability to find value in the moment, and the importance of friendship can make the world a more pleasant and safer place.


Mon, 1 Aug 2005 05:49:12 -0700 (PDT)


"Parhatsathid Napatalung" <parhat@yahoo.com>


Re: Bali and Thailand friendliness


"Van Sloan" <vansloan@yahoo.com>

Van Sloan:

  It is interesting the topic of "friendliness" topic
come up for Thailand. While Thailand culturally is one
of the most unusual in the world in terms of openness
to foreigners which I called Thais to be "xenophilia",
as opposed to Japan to be "xenophobia", it is also
true that Thailand has perhaps a high SQ - Social
Quotient, if I compared them with neighboring

This is not a compliment because if I mention to you
Thailand's corruption, then this is another story.
Corruption here in Thailand is fairly high and the
topic of corruption appearing in Thai newspapers is
almost everyday. It has destroyed Thailand economically. 
Let me compared two countries Malaysia and Thailand. 

About a year ago, 2004, I made a multiple linear
regression where it took into consideration both I.Q.
and Corruption. When I use the equation and assume
what if, corruption in Thailand were as low as
Malaysia, I found that Thailand would have been much
richer than Malaysia on a GDP per capita basis. You
might assume this might be IQ but again, using
assuming the similar IQ, corruption turns out to be a
major factor in the economic quotient. 

 So let us talk about Social Quotient. While it is
true that S.Q. in Thailand is one of the highest in
surroundng S.E. Asian Region, it does not explain or
not helpful to Thailand in economic development. If
you know Germans, they are not that friendly, but
their economic development is undeniable. 

 What is the advantage of Social Quotient anyway? Here
where some people might miss the point. A high S.Q.
for Thailand gave Thailand the only independent
country in the S.E. Asian region where discrimination
and religious differences is totally unheard of. In
fact there is no word that described that here.

It is the unique ability to be nice rather than fight
against foreign invasion. People here in Thailand
still believe that the ultimate weapon during times of
war, is the ability for diplomacy. It guaranteed
Thailand's independence, it guaranteed Thailand's
peace, and hence well known as the Land the of Smiles.
 It also guaranteed its happiness. During the times of
war, the number of Thailand died as a percentage of
other people in the surrounding region is very low
during times of war.

So because of our friendliness, we were able to avoid
direct war with many occupying countries in the past,
including the British, the French, Germans, U.S. and
even the Japan. 

Being nice has been the lifeblood here in Thailand,
and racial and religious conflict are non-existent
EVEN if you really tried. 

Thailand today is being pushed into the test again
from the Southern Thailand's Terrorist uprising. Thai
people get murdered almost everyday today in the three
southern provinces and this is never in the U.S. news
media nor well known as the London terrorism bombings.
The funding, which most Thais are aware of comes from
Saudi's through the Terrorist network inside Malaysia.

This is a well-known fact for many Thais, but they'd
rather keep it quiet. But again we don't seek trouble
with any countries, may it be the Islamic terrorist
killing Thais everyday here. It is this strange Thai
people who just want to get on with their daily life
even put under the extreme threat towards life
everyday. Thais therefore is not by nature a
beligerent people, but we are never perfect. So S.Q.
might give you happiness, it doesn't guarantee wealth.
Oh well, you can't have everything!



Hi Ted,

Thank you for your thought-provoking, insider's response on friendliness in Thailand. I agree that friendliness (SQ) does not bring as large a benefit to a nation as it does to an individual's income. For a country, IQ and corruption are much larger factors in success. Some correlations you did on national IQ, corruption, and income (GDP)/ person are on my http://SQ.4mg.com/corrupt.htm webpage. If you send me the data you mention on Thailand vs Malaya, I'll be happy to add it to that page.

It sure would be interesting to add correlations of national friendliness to income, IQ, and corruption. Fortunately, Travel and Leisure magazine has a ten-year database of friendliness rankings for many cities and islands worldwide. I wonder what would inspire that magazine to release their data for research purposes?

Eventually, we might look to publishing a model for economic growth in countries that included not only the above factors but also: a democracy rating, percent of economy run by government vs for-profit organizations, percent of workers in unions - plus other factors we think might affect economies and for which we can get some data.

Your fellow researcher,


Go to:  Success of Nations - compared to their citizens' IQ, SQ, Ambition

Go to:  Training in Social Skills in Bali

Go to:  Research findings on career success (IQ and Social Skills)

Comments to: VanSloan@yahoo.com

Web SQ.4mg.com (this website, 170+ pages on IQ and Success skills)

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