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June 25, 2011

Not long ago I greeted a Thai friend downtown Chiang Mai using his nickname. He whispered back that in public I was supposed to greet him ‘Khun NN’, i.e. use a noble title and his long impressive family name. This is an example showing that many Thais are constantly concerned about showing how important they appear in the eyes of fellow Thais. It is not a relaxed life.

When going abroad it is always interesting to compare different cultures, different traditions and different views. At yesterday’s midsummer celebration at Rönninge Gård north of Stockholm, Sweden, many Swedes came in casual clothes and often whole families arrived by bicycle. Many in the neighbourhood are wealthy but still nobody had an urge to show off.

The place for celebration was not an expensive restaurant but a farm on the countryside. The speaker who greeted everybody (in four languages) stressed the importance of celebrating in nature, and to teach children to appreciate animals and flowers. Why do the Swedes celebrate midsummer? It is the longest day of the year, and to the Swedes who suffer during the long, dark and cold winter, this is a sacred moment. The religious parts are gone, it is a family gathering. The astronomical midsummer is June 21st, but of convenience the Swedes nowadays celebrate on the Friday that week.

I think that one day Thailand will be more relaxed in showing social status, and one day the Thais will treasure the knowledge of the farmers and the beauty of our unique nature (what is left). Sweden is just a few decades ahead, so traveling abroad is like going with a time machine.

Ketsanee Seehamongkol


Swedes like to mock status symbols, while the Thais worship them. When people from the two cultures meet, the Thais seem ridiculous in the eyes of the Swedes, and the Swedes look pathetic in the eyes of the Thais.

Delicious home cooked food implies competence, something the Swedes treasure more than money. Buying a cake instead of making one yourself shows you are either incompetent or have a poor taste or you are a workoholic.

Most participants walked by foot 1-3 km or took the bicycle. Swedes are more worried about health (exercise) and nature (pollution) than how a neighbour would rank them on the social scale. Thais usually take the car or at least a motorbike, trying to find a parking as close as possible to the entrance door, even when going to the gym (a paradox).

The Swedish ‘lynx economy’ (a strong economy isolated in the north) has created more dollar millionaires than ever in Sweden, while other countries suffer from enormous loans. Still, can you tell who is a millionaire and who is not? Swedes admire the deeds of a man, not his bank account. In Thailand, money rules.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 25, 2011 5:54 PM

    So Khun NN, the super snob, doesn’t like being called by his nickname? If say his nickname is Lek, to really get under his skin you would call out Ee-Lek which is definately impolite.

    Well How about our friend Professor Danell? Thais routinely refer to him as Ee-Ric or Ee-Lik even though they could quite easily say Eric or perhaps Elik.

    Seems to me that foreigners in Thailand might as well as a matter of course prefix Thai names with Ee until they can learn some manners.

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