Sunday, August 16, 2015
Thailand has captured the essence of kindness. From my experiences, the meaning of "The Land of Smiles" demonstrates the positive energy the people of Thailand put into every interaction through their unfailing politeness, enthusiasm, and positivity. Throughout the country, regardless of language, cultural, or religious preferences, every Thai person I have met radiates a smile on their face. Unlike the various facial expressions I have experienced in my American upbringing, the people of Thailand have a different smile for every emotion. For more information on smiles click here. They smile when they’re happy, embarrassed, confused, frustrated…and even upset! It seems simple, but when you think about it, this is a very stark contrast from American culture.
Why is a friendly grin with eye contact a noticeable characteristic of this culture? In America, the kind gesture of a smile may be perceived as awkward when assuming the person smiling at you might know you personally or might be interested in starting a conversation. What might be an awkward moment in America is a common moment of politeness in Thailand. For example, as a 5'11'' tall female walking down a street in America and encountering a 4’7” Thai woman, the immediate reaction would be to look at each other, but only when the other one is not looking to avoid awkward eye contact. But in Thailand, when passing strangers on the street, eye contact becomes a pleasant moment of appreciation for each other with mutual smiles. These smiles create a peaceful vibe, generating positive energy.
On the left is the woman who was smiling at me throughout my meal. Afterward, she gestured for a picture, and I played angry birds with her daughter. We made new friends that day, despite the fact that we were unable to verbally communicate at all due to the language barrier. I knew everything she said was with kindness and good intentions due to her adding the word “ka” to the end of every statement. “Ka” has no true meaning other than adding a kind inflection to whatever statement has been made. “Ka” does not directly translate to anything in English, but in Thai it adds respect to whatever statement has been made. For example, when saying “I’m sorry” in Thai, the word “Ka” can be added to the end of the statement to show the sincere intentions of the person apologizing.
The ideas of kindness and positivity are so important in Thai culture that even those with the most power and privilege, the Royal Family, work to embody those traits. When you take a look at some of the accomplishments within the Thai Royalty, you can see the effects of their kindness to their people radiate through the country. To learn more about the royal family and behaviors visit this link and also take a look at the suggested books listed. I gained a better understanding of the Royal Family when we had the pleasure and opportunity to meet the 78 year old Princess of Thailand and visit the Queen's house. One of Her Royal Majesty’s favorite poems explains, when animals die they leave their skin hide and horns behind, but for a man, all he can leave behind are the good deeds he has performed during his lifetime. The message is to live life to the fullest and take advantage of every moment to offer kindness.
In Thailand, I learned the importance of positivity and kindness to strangers and how it can transform your daily life. I believe some people are living life with the expectation of something better when it is over, but if we live as if the best is now, the world would be a better place. What a wonderful way to live!
This positivity can start with something as simple as a smile. When someone is smiling at you, it’s contagious and you can’t help but smile back. So next time you walk down the street and experience “awkward” eye contact accidentally, I challenge you to remember the Thai lifestyle and give a kind grin. You may be pleasantly surprised J