Monday, July 27, 2015

Thai/Lao Smile

When I first decided to look for a wife in Thailand, back in the late 1990s, I learned that Thai women do not particularly care for facial hair. So, I cut my mustache off, one that I had been wearing in two or three different styles since the beginning of the ‘70s. It was a bit of a shock to see myself clean shaven, because it was then that I discovered my lips had developed a downward frown to them, at the edges; making me look unhappy or slightly mean.

Having somewhat of a grumpy look to me wasn’t a problem in the United States, but in Thailand, it is a liability. Thai and Lao people put great importance on smiling. So, as I’ve moved about in both countries, I have tried to adopt a Thai/Lao Smile. It is somewhat of a cross between a grin and a grimace, but it’s the best I can do without over-doing it. Everyday, I remind myself to smile so that people do not misinterpret my actions or demeanor. I do this whether I’m in my village or in another Southeast Asian country.

Again, while I was looking for my wife, I read a very insightful explanation of the “Thai Smile.” It is part of the Introduction to Niels Mulder’s Inside Thai Society (©2000):

Thailand is often called The Land of Smiles, a sobriquet which sounds at once pleasant and mysterious. At the same time that a smile may suggest good humour, it is one of the most enigmatic of expressions as well. A smile may be a sign of kindness, of forgiveness, or friendly inclinations; a smile may also be merely polite, a way to smooth interaction or a sign that one is willing to listen. A smile may indicate agreement, or self-confidence, but may also be a means to gently express one’s opposition or doubt. A person on the defensive may smile and one may smile when sad, or hurt, or even insulted. It has been said that the Thais have a smile for every emotion, and with so many nuances of smiling, the smile often hides more than it reveals.”

So, I guess you could say I’m just trying to fit in; with my grin/grimace and all.

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