The land of fewer smiles

Thailand is nicknamed the Land of Smiles and Thai people are known for being friendly, polite and kind. However, this seems to be a thing of the past. In recent years, I have had many uncomfortable moments with Thais who are not so well-mannered and kind.

About 10 years ago, I was shocked and speechless when a male teenager reached out over my head to grasp a beverage can while I was bending down in a convenience store. For Thais and many Asian people, touching our heads and handing things over our heads is a very rude thing to do. Feeling insulted, I directed a warning at that boy: "It wasn't polite." To my surprise, he replied angrily: "I don't f***ing care, old woman." And all I could do was to feel desperate about some members of the young generation who are supposed to be "the future of the country".

Year after year, I feel more and more desperate and sad as the lack of kindness and good manners has become a common thing for many people to feel. My life would be boring if I did not encounter any of these "phenomena" _ no words of appreciation for those helping them, no apologies for wrongdoings and no assistance for those in need _ every single day.

Every time the lift door at my office is about to open, I wonder whether anyone will rush in without waiting for those inside to step out first. If I had bought a lottery ticket, I would have won a jackpot since such a thing happens more often. The worst thing time was about three months ago when those inside the lift failed to press the button to keep the door open when I was stepping in. Consequently, parts of my arms were hit by the door and I developed bruises. As I was hurt and upset, I walked out and said loudly that I was not going with them but to the medical unit instead. Alarmingly, all those in the lift except one woman laughed. What for? I know that Thai people tend to laugh and smile at any circumstance for various reasons including to comfort themselves and others, and to make the atmosphere less gloomy. However, in this case I did not buy it.

Nowadays, it has become rare to find "gentlemen" standing up and giving their seats on public buses and trains to pregnant women, the elderly and children. These days, many men either seem to pretend to not see those in need or to be busy using their mobile phones or tablets.

Sometimes, I see women instead give their seats to needy people and I myself do it whenever I have the opportunity.

Several people have complained about this on websites. A woman who was eight months pregnant wrote on www.pantip.com that no one offered her a seat when she and her eldest child took a public bus to a hospital. After almost an hour passed, a middle-aged woman finally told her to take her seat when she was about to faint.

Another website user recalled that at seven months pregnant, she was standing in front of the row of seats reserved for pregnant women, children and the elderly on a skytrain on her way from Siam Square to On Nut. Three men who were seated there did not stand up but pretended to be busy with their mobile phones. Instead, a female teenager who was seated quite far away offered her seat.

On a different thread, a woman recalled that after four bus stops she had to beg a man to give her his seat when she was seven months pregnant. According to her, that man looked at her three times to make sure she was really pregnant before standing up.

On the other hand, sometimes the "recipients" disappoint the "givers" by not saying "thank you" to them. Some people may think I expect too much to see people in big cities treating each other kindly and politely like in the past when the cities were not so busy and crowded. I may be old-fashioned, but I believe kindness and politeness are timeless. After countless disappointments, I am still hopeful though.


Pichaya Svasti is a travel writer for Life.

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Writer: Pichaya Svasti
Position: Life Writer