The Thai Character : Fun and Pleasure Orientation


8. Fun-Pleasure Orientation

Thailand has been known as the "Land of smile", a stereotyped image that comes along with the much-talked-about myth of the Thai being easy-going, enjoying the everyday routine pleasures of life with a happy carelessness, not letting troubles touch them easily, viewing life as something to be enjoyed not endured, and would not do anything that is not Sanuk (to have fun, to enjoy oneself and to have good time). They are easily bored or Bua, and therefore lack of the "stick-to-it-ive-ness" or the serious commitment and sustained level of hard (and often unpleasant) work, which is essentially required for the success of industrial undertakings. They are generally lethargic, lazy, unaggressive, and fond of having fun and leisure.

To which extent this myth with all its traits is true and understood in the right perspective? Evidently, many writings on this myth are derivations from the primary sources of Ruth Benedict (1943) and Embree's (1950) anthropological observations, and the application and implication of which should be subjected to further verification and analysis.

Komin made a very clear and convincing comment on the matter. First of all, the general conclusion of the Thai as being lethargic, lazy, unaggressive, and fun-leisure loving, is meaningless. It is almost the standardized description of any agricultural, non-industrialized society, be it Thai, Indonesian, or Micronesians in the Pacific Islands, etc. They are often general attributes given to the more relaxed way of life of the rural community dwellers, as opposed to the more hectic way of life of the competitive industrialized city dwellers. Culturally, it is meaningless in not being able to help distinguish the Thai cultural traits from other cultures.


8.1. Nature of Fun-Pleasure Oriented Behaviors of the Thai

Empirical data show quite a different picture from that of the aforementioned myth. This type of myth seems to catch only the outward presentation of the "fun" and the "lightness" approach to things of the Thai. Komin in fact looked at and explained this myth from two aspects: the abhorrence of hard-work, and the fun-leisure and "smiling" aspects.

For the issue of abhorrence of hard-work, research data showed that the private sector and the lower class in fact did work hard, and ranked work over fun-loving and pleasure. It is the Bangkokians and particularly the government officials who preferred fun-loving over work, and generally known to be very lax and inefficient in job performance.


As for the fun-leisure and "smiling" aspect, it can be explained as the resulting behavioral pattern from keeping a pleasant and smooth face-to-face interpersonal interaction, which is a higher value. In so doing, most Thai social interactions are pleasant, light, might be superficial, yet fun and humorous in nature. Joyful behaviors can be observed in any Thai party, which is usually characterized by small talks, gossips, jokes, teasing one another, making fun of all kinds of non-personal inconsequential things and events, including playing with words, using puns and kham phuan (reverse of syllables for taboo word), etc. in a clever, humorous and amusing fashion. Imitations of Chinese and Indian speaking Thai are always good for a laugh.


Besides these essential mechanisms of the so-called "social cosmetics" which are so deeply rooted that they appear as genuine presentation to project the "smiling" image, it is also a projection of the basic inclination of being kind, generous, sympathetic towards other human beings, strangers and foreigners included. For instance, it is not uncommon to find a Thai traveling with his friend in a tour van, offering sweets or fruits that he is having with his friends, to the foreigners who happened to be sitting nearby, a share of his joy of eating, as if they were from his own community. Some foreigners might feel uneasy with such show of familiarity treatment. For the Thai, it is nothing special, nor having a purpose, but just a friendly gesture, and not expecting anything in return.


Definitely, the Thai are not xenophobic, which could possibly due to the fact that they have never been colonized, and thus adding to the friendly interactions with foreigners.

Finally, is this "smiling" and friendly interaction, with lots of fun and joyful behavior, a true indicator of valuing fun and pleasure as an end in itself, or it is a necessary means to function effectively in Thai society? The research findings suggested that this fun-pleasure value functions as the imperative mechanism, as means to support and maintain the more important interpersonal interaction value. When asked "Life is short, so one should enjoy as much as one can", the results show that there are more disagreements to the statement than agreement.

Particularly with regards to planning for the future, the majority of the respondents disagreed to the statement that: "Future is uncertain, so there is no need for planning for one' future".

8.2. Everyday Life Concerns and Worries

Despite the pleasant, relaxed and joyful behaviors as their everyday life means of interactions, the Thai as human beings do have their concerns and worries. What occupies their minds in their daily existence could be therefore an interesting aspect upon looking at the Thai people.

9. Achievement-Task Orientation

Primary Source : Fr. Peter S. Niphon SDB, Hat Yai
Full unedited text (includes footnotes and references)
Secondary Source :   S. KOMIN, Psychology of the Thai People: Values and Behavioral Patterns. Bangkok, Research Center, National Institute of Development Administration.