October 2, 2000

The first time I ever really noticed that people have different concepts of personal space and togetherness was when I was working in Switzerland. I was teaching English to two Swiss women and one Brazilian woman. It was the first day of class.

The two Swiss arrived. One took the left side of the table and the other took the right. Then in came the Brazilian and did not take the far end of the table, but rather sat very directly and tightly next to the Swiss on the left. The feeling in the room changed. The Brazilian knew she had done something wrong, but what? The Swiss lady was perturbed. After about fifteen minutes the Brazilian moved away some and everything was fine. Thais would definitely follow suite with the Brazilian girl.

I have learned that in Thailand personal space narrows. The streets of Bangkok are crowded. Busses make sardine cans look lavish at times. Besides the high density population there is another reason why personal space narrows. Thais are021000k1.jpg incredibly social. Companionship is something they enjoy.

Meals and snacks are eaten together and shared. My husband tells me that everyday his office his fellow Thai co-workers say “Good morning! What did you have for breakfast?” instead of “How are you?” People dilegently report throughout the day what they ate or what they will eat. Showing someone you care about him or her is not about asking how they are, but rather if they are well fed and content in their stomach. Food is commonly shared.

Eating, snacking, and thinking about what there is to eat next is a major feature of life in Thailand. With all of the non-stop snacking that goes on, it is amazing how thin everyone remains. Just out in front of my house there are many vendors selling snacking options and my neighbourhood is not a big one. I have the dried squid vendor, the papaya salad saleswoman, the soup and fishball salesman, and the catfish cooker all at my doorstep. These are the stationary stalls. There021000k2.jpg are herds of other snacks the pass on wheels every hour.

It is amazing just how much food is for sale in Bangkok at every corner, intersection, and office. If you are hungry food is literally one step away 24 hours a day. If you listen to people speaking Thai you will hear the word ‘gin’ (with the g pronounced as g, not j) all the time. ‘Gin’ means to eat or drink.

My husband works long hours and I often end up eating by myself. Sai is our maid. I remember the first few weeks in Bangkok when I would sit in the dining room at an empty table eatting my meal. Sai would give me an alarmed look and come in and stand with me. She did not want me to be eating alone. I explained to her that I was fine being by myself, but most Thais still have a hard time believing that I am O.K. with the amount of solitary time I clock.

This amiable approach to life certainly makes it less lonely. If stuck sitting alone, why not seek out a short time pal to play a game of checkers with021000k3.jpg or make a little chit chat? I rarely see taxi cab drivers sitting in silence waiting for their next fare. Instead, the down time becomes a social event. If you are a woman and you have made a female Thai friend, do not be alarmed when she decides to hold your hand or caress your back. If you are a man, do not be surprised when your Thai pal throws his arm over your shoulder. That is what friends do here. The first time my girlfriend held my hand during a shopping trip I was alarmed. At a Thai rock concert I was surprised when other females started to dance with me and then locked hands with me. Now I consider it part of having a friend.

Thai families often sleep all together in the same room and in the same bed. Children up to the age of eighteen may still be found in with their parents. If in a situation where they may have to spend a night by themselves, they often will choose to go sleep over at a friend’s house.

My husband had a business trip with four or five of his fellow co-workers. It was to be arranged that each of them would sleep in their own hotel room. “Oh No!” exclaimed the group in fear, “Mr. X can not sleep in a room by himself! He is afraid of ghosts!” It was arranged that someone would share a room with Mr. X and the whole group went off on their business trip. Ghosts are something taken very seriously, but that is a whole nother story.

Back to the table of contents...