From the European perspective, the Thai family has a very traditional, and some would say, old fashion structure. Old fashion sounds negative but I believe that many of the normal Thai family traits appear similar to some of the great values of European living. By this I mean there is a strong sense of family and how it is perceived to fit in with the social hierarchy of the country as a whole. Thai parents and children have a profound understanding of who is senior and who should be respected as this is drilled into children at an early age. There is also a great respect for government work like army, police & bureaucrats and this sense of structure keeps the family unit grounded. It also helps keep Thailand uniform and cohesive.
From very early on, children are taught by rote, with a lot of repetition, to conform to norms as set out by their teachers and parents. The Thai alphabet is a 48 character system, each letter represented by common animals like chicken and snake and some more esoteric characters like monks cymbal bells. Children endlessly repeat the sound of the alphabet with associated representation until they know them backwards and can say them with the correct intonation. The intonation is something core to talking, understanding, reading and writing Thai. This chanting style at an early age pulls children in a uniform direction embracing the value of the culture.
Once these basic elements have been assembled, the Thai culture and Thai face is taught by Buddhist parables & fables that reflect Thai's basic relativism. Along side these cultural elements the sciences and social sciences sit. However I would comment that the majority of Thai people see the Thai cultural aspect as core.
|Thai Schooling at the start of school|
The elderly are always addressed in an honourific term 'Pi' their name emphasizing their place in the family and in society. The style of language that is used to talk to an elder changes to show this respect. However they in turn are able to reply to the younger 'Nong' their name and use less formal language. This sense of elder younger is taught from a young age and is part of the fabric of life. The classic way to describe this comes from the following story. Imagine twins at birth. Aunts will gather round and talk to the older baby as 'Pi' their name and 'Nong' their name to keep this hierarchy in place. This younger older conversation will stay with those children throughout their life and spreads out to include family and friends.
I'm not convinced that Thai people are ancestor worshipers unlike their Chinese-Thai compatriots who go to great lengths to pay their respects to the dead. Having said that, there is a fundamental awareness of relations in the after life in the tradition of believing in ghosts. Many of the most popular TV soaps include ghosts and their imaginary horrors.
No Nanny state.
Thailand is not a nanny state and the primary care process is based on the family. This emphasizes the need for good family relations and large and extended family ties. Often getting work comes through who you know in the extended network of family and their friends. Many homes have elderly relations living our their days, some with far from satisfactory help but there is no European sense of state provision. For these reasons the family is at the core of Thailand living.
Thais are not very tactile compared to Western cultures and care should be taken not be too informal before you get to know people. Thailand is very hot so it makes sense there isn't a lot of hugging or cheek kissing or even shaking hands. This I believe, is one reason why the Thai feel comfortable doing the 'Wai' (meaning 'bow') with their hands together as if in prayer, fingers pointing upwards.
|Thai Wai or bow|
Thailand since the Internet
Boy things have changed!
It's as if the internet has re-written social values all over the world and none more so than in Thailand. The 'smart phone generation' has come to large sways of the country, changing how people communicate and express their thought. There is a lot more slang, a lot more break-down-the-walls-of-hierarchy-and-independent-thought and having a voice, much to the chagrin of the older generation. This has created a social energy that puts the under 40's in a different mind set to those who have not embraced the internet. However the language, schooling and values are the same, the powerful political classes and institutions change very slowly. So from the outside it is feels as if it's a modern version of the same culture. However, speaking to some of the older generation it's as if the world is getting turned upside down.
In a heavily networked family, the internet generation might find it more difficult to respect their elders and this is a fault line that will change Thailand over time.
|Thai internet generation|