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Thailand | Culture
The Path Of Least Resistance

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Thai plumbing

Thai plumbing

 

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Thailand - The Path Of Least Resistance

 

 

Overview

Lots foreigners say that Thais are lazy. I have heard and read this statement many times. My problem with these generalised statements is that not all Thais are lazy. Some work so hard that it makes me tired just watching them, and when you consider that those working outside have to deal with intense heat and humidity they work exceptionally hard.

However, even though there are exceptions, there is no doubt that many Thais are lazy. Jobs that aren't necessary don't get done at all, and the minimum time and effort is taken to do jobs that are necessary. The basic objective with many Thai workers is to complete a job as quickly as possible and to do the job in the easiest possible way.

They choose the easiest possible solution to get around a problem or challenge. No thought is given to aesthetics, safety, accountability, liability, or whether the solution will be durable.

I do not invent my observations of Thailand and I am not alone in seeing what I see. Lots of foreigners complain about shoddy workmanship in Thailand and this is caused by many Thais having a tendency always to choose the easiest option.

I picked up the expression 'The Path Of Least Resistance' from a long term Thailand expat friend and I use it because it is so accurate.

Thais, of course, understand their own shortcomings and they have their own expression:

มักง่าย (muk ngaay)

The word muk is the lesser known Thai verb 'to like'. I never hear it used apart from when it used is in this expression. The verb 'to like' that is usually used is chawp. The word ngaay means simple or easy.

Therefore, the literal expression of the meaning is 'to like easy'. All Thais will know and understand this expression. The literal translation is a verb, but is used as an adjective to describe a job that has been done badly.

My Thai-English dictionary defines it as: careless, slipshod, sloppy.

While talking to my wife about the Thai tendency to 'like easy' she added something else. She told me that Thais will also choose the cheapest solution, as well as the easiest and quickest one. This is also very true.

 

It's a Thai trait, but even some Thais dislike other people taking the path of least resistance

It's a Thai trait, but even some Thais dislike other people taking the path of least resistance

 

I was quite surprised to see the sign above as I was walking around one day. A street vendor doesn't want people smoking near his stall so has posted a sign telling people not to smoke in this area and not to 'muk ngaay'.

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The Defining Characteristic Of Thais?

Whenever guide books write about Thai cultural behaviour they always mention (without fail) 'mai bpen rai' and describe this as being the defining characteristic of Thais. I disagree.

In many cases, 'mai bpen rai' (don't worry, it's nothing) is used when a Thai person doesn't want to take any action, and the reason the person doesn't want to take any action is to make life easier - muk ngaay.

If I had to choose one aspect of Thai cultural behaviour that defines Thais more than any other, I would choose muk ngaay, not mai bpen rai.

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Examples

Examples of this phenomenon are not difficult to find in Thailand and the easiest way is just to look around at the plumbing and wiring. If a pipe or a cable needs to go from A to B, then the path it takes will be a straight line from A to B.

There will be no attempt to conceal the pipe or cable and in addition to looking ugly it will probably create a hazard. An electric cable could electrocute someone (and this happens to people in Thailand, including foreigners) or a pipe running across the sidewalk could cause someone to trip and fall.

 

Another example of Thai plumbing

Another example of Thai plumbing

 

Whenever I come back to Thailand from a developed country, one of the things that strikes me most is all the ugly overhead cabling. It takes effort to conceal cables underground and it is easier just to keep adding to the mess that already exists.

When people always want to find the easiest solution it creates work for other people and depending on the type of work it can also create safety hazards.

 

Overhead cables

Overhead cables

 

 

Wiring in Thailand

Wiring in Thailand

 

This highlights another unfortunate trait in Thailand, whereby Thais seem to have no responsibilty for their actions and if their actions cause another person to be injured they don't care. Further, there is no sense of any liability and if they are forced to pay compensation they will only do it grudgingly.

You might think that Thais who do work like this outside might behave a little differently in their own (or other people's) homes, but this isn't the case.

I have several picture frames on the walls of my house and I plan to add more. For each frame I drill a hole in the wall, insert a rawl plug, and then screw in a suitable hook.

In many Thai homes, including my wife's parents' home, I have seen picture frames hanging on a nail that has been hammered into the wall. Yes, it saved a few minutes and took little effort, but it looks terrible. They just don't care.

When I work I don't want someone watching me constantly and I don't like to watch workers constantly when they are working in my home, but I have to in Thailand. If left unattanded, most will always opt for the path of least resistance and although they will complete the job they were asked to do it will look a mess.

I moved into a new house and had to start doing jobs almost immediately because so many jobs had been carried out badly.

Here's an example of another problem:

 

Just hammer it down with a big nail

Just hammer it down with a big nail

 

This stair has started to lift, just like many sections of the parquet flooring. I asked the foreman who was responsible for the original construction to take a look and he arrived with one of his workers. He told his worker just to take a big nail, and to hammer it into the stair until the stair was level. I couldn't believe what I was hearing, but beating it down with a big nail was the quickest and easiest solution. The path of least resistance.

When the worker turned up he realised that the stair couldn't be repaired by banging a big nail into it. He saw that it would take a lot more work, so disappeared and never came back.

If jobs around the house aren't too difficult I will do them myself. With jobs that look too difficult I get workers in. On some occasions Thai tradesmen have just refused work if it looks tricky. They will only accept easy jobs.

The way that rubbish is discarded is another big example of Thais always taking the easiest option. NHK, the international TV service broadcast from Tokyo in English, gives some fascinating insights into Japan.

A Spanish woman who had lived in Tokyo since 1993 was asked what it was like living in Japan. One thing she found confusing was knowing where to discard rubbish because waste in Japan has to be separated into combustible, incombustible, recyclable, etc.

There is no such confusion in Thailand.

Rubbish isn't separated into different types and in many cases it is simply discarded by the roadside. The term used for this practice in the UK is fly-tipping. It is very common in Thailand and when I travel into town from my house I see rubbish dumped everywhere.

It looks terrible and creates an environmental hazard, but for many Thais is it simply the easiest and most convenient way of getting rid of garbage. The path of least resistance.

 

Rubbish discarded by the roadside

Rubbish discarded by the roadside

 

The irony is that aesthetic beauty is highly prized in Thailand and Thais are perfectly capable of carrying out excellent workmanship. If they are inclined to do a job well, or if they are working for a person who won't tolerate shoddy workmanship, they will do an excellent job.

However, if they think they can get away with being lazy many will opt for the path of least resistance.

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Positive Aspects

I agree that if there is a simple way to do something then there is no point complicating it and making life difficult. But this isn't what I am trying to describe here. This is about taking short cuts and never doing things properly.

I can't think of anything positive that will come from always choosing the easiest, quickest and cheapest way to 'fix' a problem.

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Negative Aspects

As you will see if you walk around Thailand, the wiring and plumbing is a complete mess. In addition to looking terrible, there are also potential safety hazards. Death from electrocution is fairly common in Thailand, and this includes foreigners.

Some years ago a three year-old girl was killed at her school by a heavy metal gate that had a problem. The school had been aware there was a problem, but the easiest solution was not to do anything.

Rubbish is dumped everywhere. It looks disgusting and can be a source of disease if the rubbish attracts rats or water collecting in the rubbish allows mosquities to breed.

I bought a new house but shortly afterwards I had to start doing jobs and getting jobs done because so many things hadn't been done properly in the first place. This just wastes time and money.

A major factor contributing to Thailand's notorious traffic congestion is double parking, whereby Thais will simply park in an active traffic lane and switch on their hazard warning lights while they go to the bank or buy food.

To park in a legitimate parking space and walk back is too much effort for them. They want to park in the most conveneinet place for them to make their lives easy and there is absolutely no consideration for anyone else.

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Notable Exceptions

I am glad to say that there are some notable exceptions, and that the attitude of taking the path of least resistance doen't happen everywhere. The key factor seems to relate to the amount of Western influence there is in a particular field. Take, for example, the field of medicine.

Thailand has its own system of traditional medicine, but mainstream medicine follows the Western model. Thai doctors do six year medical degrees based on Western instruction using Western text books. Most study or work in a Western country to get experience.

In the medical profession Western prodecures of safety and hygiene are followed and I have a lot of confidence in Thai doctors, dentists and nurses.

Occasionally there are bad stories, but these usually involve doctors who don't follow rules, regulations and procedures, for example, unqualified doctors performing cosmetic surgery in private clinics.

Another exception is air traffic control and aircraft maintenance. Since 2004 when Thailand's budget airline industry really took off, Thai skies have been crowded. However, there have been very few incidents involving plane safety.

Again, Thailand follows international rules and regulation regarding air safety. Not only is it the right thing to do, but Thais are also very pragmatic.

General tourism generates a massive amount of money for the country and medical tourism is a fast growing sector. If foreigners had safety concerns about flying or undergoing medical procedures in the country it would hurt the economy.

I have also found the service provided by Thai staff of foreign firms operating in Thailand to be quite good. Foreign firms expect the service they provide to be of a high level and train their Thai staff accordingly.

Conclusion

Thailand is a fantastic place to spend a vacation, but many of the exact same cultural traits that make it so great as a vacation destination start to have completely the opposite effect when you live in Thailand permanently.

None of us want difficult lives, but most of us accept that life isn't always easy. If we want anything done properly it involves more work than a quick bodge would require. However, it's not a problem because we know that by doing a job properly in the fisrt place it will save time in the long run.

Laws often make our lives more difficult, but most of us realise why there is a necessity for law in society and we accept that laws must be followed. That is the Western viewpoint but, as with most things, the thinking is completely different in Thailand.

Most Thai workers will always look at the easiest way of doing a job before they think of the best way to do the job. Whenever I have work done to my house there are invariably problems afterwards, which need fixing again. This is inconvenient and wastes my time and money.

Most Thais have zero regard for law and if breaking a law makes life easier for them they will do it without flinching. This is especially the case on Thailand's roads, which are the second most dangerous roads in the world.

There is a very selfish attitude. Many Thais only think about how they can make their own lives easier with no regard whatsoever for other people. As you can imagine, this attitude doesn't make for a very harmonious society.

When the novelty of being in Thailand finally wears off and you start to see what really goes on, it can actually be quite shocking. Once the rose-tinted spectacles have been removed the 'paradise' of Thailand starts to look very different.

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Other Thai Culture Pages You May Be Interested In

 

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Booking.com used to be more expensive than Agoda, but when I have checked hotel prices recently I have found their rates to be quite competitive. Unlike Agoda, you don't need to pay at the time of booking with Booking.com - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, Booking.com show you total prices whereas Agoda show you a price and then add on 17% for tax and service charge.

If you wish to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined.

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