European thoughts on Thai culture

»Same same, but different« – what does the salesman across the street mean with this strange sentence? You can hear it coming from every corner of the city when on a stroll in Bangkok. What is the sense behind it? it seems to be due to that exact lack of sense that this expression has become cult in Thailand, to the extent one can now find it printed on T-shirts. Still, this new fashion statement doesn’t solve the mystery of what the salesmen are trying to convey.

To be honest – we really don’t know. Since the sentence is being used almost universally and for any purpose, it seems to be on its way to becoming stranger than it already is. However, when you decide to take a closer look at this seemingly completely absurd sentence, you will discover that it might, in the end, actually have a meaning.

All humans are anatomically and physically equal, regardless of their area of origin. We are all humans, and therefore we are all »the same«. However, particular cultural circlesdiffer from each other and so are »different«. We are born, grow up and are influenced by the people around us. We adopt the values, norms and traditions of our particular culture, and this way become a part of an organisation. As a result, many different cultural spheres emerged around the world, some with considerable differences.

When we decided, a few months ago, to do an internship at SYNNECTA Bangkok, we were fully aware of the fact that we would be hurling ourselves into cultural adventures. Our expectations lived up to the reality of our daily life, a world with a completely different mentality to ours.

We arrived in a colourful and multifaceted city with splendid temples and a multitude of people. Five weeks of living in Bangkok have taught us that the Thais are extraordinarily relaxed people. For instance, at the airport, a place most Europeans would consider rushed and stressful, we were amazed to sense a lack of stress in the atmosphere. This easy attitude towards life is palpable even in exhausting situations and places such as this. A simple sigh seems to be enough for a Thai to get over a stressful situation, as for example the heavily hectic and chaotic rush-hour traffic, which usually makes us Europeans rather annoyed and aggressive.

Bangkok is thus dominated by a take-it-easy-lifestyle. However, this attitude has a negative effect when dealing with the environment and sustainability. Waste production is considerable, its removal and reprocessing dreadful, and a large pollution cloud is hanging above the city. The air-circulation above the streets is also limited due to all the skyscraper constructions. All these elements have proven to be hazardous to health.

Thai people are renowned for their kindness. Regardless of whether in the supermarket, on the streets or in the public bus, the Thai people are always smiling and helpful, especially when selling.

Another noticeable aspect of Thai life is the economical pressure. As consumer goods abound, so does competition. Uncountable salesmen permanently try to advertise their products by approaching potential customers. They might appear very open and extravert whilst doing their job, but getting to know their personal side can prove to be rather hard, as they fiercely protect their privacy. This reticence could be explained by the fact that they do not seem completely comfortable with the English language.

Every day, we continue to encounter these contradictions. On one hand, this country shows off an exaggerated openness which can be overwhelming to us, yet Thai people also appear to cherish their conservative attitudes and traditions.

All these characteristics are particular pieces of the Thai cultural puzzle. A city’s culture does not only influence its inhabitants, it plays a non-negligible role for foreigners who visit country as well.

Tactfulness is always important, especially in a business context. National cultures have an enormous influence on the way companies are led, as shown by Geert Hofstede’s study »National Influences«. To maximize your success rate with international corporations, it is necessary to study the culture they operate within, and behave accordingly in day-to-day business practice. It is therefore advisable to ask a citizen from this culture for expertise, since the key to success resides in people, and therefore their culture.

Alexandra Dick, Tonja Passolt