Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
This week lectures were concentrated, among others topics, on cultural identity and cross-cultural communication. For me and for many foreigners, one of the essential parts of Thai cultural and communication skills is that “an always smiling culture”. Thailand is famously known as the “Land of Smiles”, and for good reason – all you see are the Thais are smiling everywhere, on the streets, in the offices, in the hospitals, in the hotels, at the universities – everywhere. But, be careful, a Thai smile does not automatically mean that the person is happy and willing to do what you are asking for. The Thai people are smiling always, not only when they are in a good mood.
Thailand – The Land of Smiles – photo made by Jan de Jesus.
Thai smiles have thousands of meanings, and it is not easy for foreigners to recognise them all. When Westerners see a smiling person in front of him, his first thought may be – this person is happy to see me – but be warned, this can lead to misunderstandings between Westerners and Thais. The Thais have a wide range of terms for different types of smiles; like Eskimos with all their different terms for snow. According to “Working With The Thais: A Guide to Managing in Thailand” by Henry Holmes and Suchada Tangtongtavy, the ‘top 13’ identified Thai Smiles are:
1. Yim thak thaai / ยิ้มทักทาย: The “polite” smile for someone you barely know. This is the smile of convenience, a polite smile that enables you to acknowledge someone you don’t know that well, or someone you aren’t going to get into a long conversation with. It’s pretty much the most common smile you’ll get when out and about in Thailand.
2. Yim cheun chom / ยิ้มชื่นชม: The “I admire you” smile, or, I’m proud of you”.
3. Yim thang nam taa / ยิ้มทั้งน้ำตา: This smile must be interpreted in context, as it can mean two different things. On one hand it can mean “I’m so happy I’m crying inside”, and on the other, given different circumstances, “I’m so sad inside, but I’m still smiling”.
4. Fuoon Yim / ฝืนยิ้ม: The stiff smile and somewhat fake smile, also known as the “I should laugh at the joke though it’s not funny” Smile.
5. Yim mee lessanai / ยิ้มมีเลสนัย: The smile which masks something wicked in your mind.
6. Yim yaw / ยิ้มเยาะ: This smile can be used in two ways: Firstly, when teasing someone, and secondly when wanting to express the words “I told you so”, without actually having to be so harsh.
7. Yim yoh-yae / ยิ้มเหยาะแหย: The “I know things look pretty bad but there’s no point in crying over spilt milk” smile. This smile is the Thai equivalent to suggesting that it’s not worth getting upset over something that seems pretty bad, but has happened and can’t be changed.
8. Yim sao / ยิ้มเศร้า: The sad smile; one that indicates someone really isn’t happy.
9. Yim haeng / ยิ้มแห้ง: The dry smile, also known as the “I know I owe you the money but I don’t have it” smile.
10. Yim dor dhaan / ยิ้มต่อต้าน: The “I disagree with you” smile, also known as the “You can go ahead and propose it but your idea’s no good” smile.
11. Yim chuead chuean / ยิ้มเชือดเฉือน: The “I am the winner” smile, the smile given to a losing competitor.
12. Yim suu suu! / ยิ้มซื่อซื่อ: This is the smile of encouragement, the “You/I can do it” smile.
13. Yim mai awk / ยิ้มไม่ออก: The “I’m trying to smile but can’t” smile. This is the smile used when concealing difficult emotion. It’s the “I’m trying my best to smile but I’m struggling” smile.
Of course, other nations have their own different smiles too, but in Thailand this “smiling culture” is brought to perfection. You can apparently smile at any Thai person you pass by while walking on the street and that person will most likely smile back at you. The reason is less important, after all the foreigner feels better, happy, and more welcome; especially if they don’t know all the variations of the Thai smiles. It makes me feel really warm inside that all my friends from Rotary Peace Fellows Class 22, as well as our lecturers and administration support staff are smiling all the time even during classes or free time. I feel like the Thai culture of smile has permeated us all.
Don’t forget ever, life is beautiful! 😉
Goran Bandov – Croatia
Rotary Peace Fellow, Class 22