traits in thailandLiving 

5 traits I picked up after moving to Thailand

As german I’m prone to being very much tied to the traits that my home country taught me. With my move to Thailand I did lose some of the typical German traits though (which is not a bad thing I believe) and also picked up a few new ones. Here’s a list of five of the most obvious traits I picked up since moving to the Land of Smiles.

Yim – Smile

A German moving to the LOS (Land of Smiles). That’s two opposites right there. We’re famous for always being serious, Thais are famous for always smiling. Does that work out? Turns out, it does. It took me a while to get used to everybody starting conversations with smiles first (sometimes that’s all they do, without actually saying anything) but eventually I got around it and I do think it’s nice to approach people with a smile rather than with a super serious face like we usually do back home. By now I smile more and try to smile at most things that happen here. Even if it’s at work, why not try to smile while getting stuff done or dealing with some work issues? If your face smiles, your mind will follow.

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Jai Yen – Cool Heart – Calm, Cool & Patience

That now sounds weirder than it is. It doesn’t mean you’re cold hearted, but rather that you don’t get into heated arguments or lose your temper – especially in public. In Thailand the act of ‘saving face’ is pretty important and while that can lead to weird acts of people living here the act of keeping a cool heart and not losing it in public is actually something that’s not a bad idea. I always considered myself to be rather ‘cool’ in this regard; being from Germany I don’t have many feelings anyways, right? :P Nevertheless sometimes you just feel like aaaaaaaaarggghhhh. That’s when you have to stay cool, keep calm, and carry on. Your patience will be tested at times but living here helps to improve your patience and if you can keep a cool head you know you’re adapting well. Keeping a cool head will get you way further than losing your temper. 

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Mai Pen Rai – No worries

Lots of my German friends don’t grasp the ‘mai pen rai’ concept at first, I do find it easy to understand as it’s somewhat close to the Australian ‘no worries’ – at least from my point of view. Mai pen rai is a phrase you hear all the time in regards to letting people that, well, it’s all no problem. “Dude I just dropped your phone” – “Mai pen rai!”. “Man, I’ll be late!” – “Mai pen rai”. “She just broke up with me” – “Mai pen rai, you’re better off alone!”.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that the issue that’s been talked about isn’t important, but it rather shows that you can’t change what happened and hence rather move on. Yesterday I lost my BTS Skytrain card but mai pen rai, can’t change it anyways. I’ll just get a new one.

Mai pen rai. Worry less, live more!

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Sabai Sabai – Take it easy!

The second most used term, right after the above mentioned ‘mai pen rai’, in Thailand. Sabai stands for ‘relax’ so sabai sabai stands for relax relax ;-) This means ‘take it easy’, don’t be too serious, stay cool, go with the flow, etc.

Every time I go the Muay Thai gym for example my coach would tell me to be ‘sabai sabai’ which means I shouldn’t be too tense, not too serious and rather be flexible, light on my feet and don’t worry too much about the opponent. Another example would be if you ask your friend how things are and if he’s up for some hard work today and the answer would be ‘oh, today, sabai sabai!’. This would mean today he wants to take it easy, probably because it’s too hot (or he partied too much last night).

In Germany we’re mostly serious and very concerned about everything, especially when it comes to work. Learning to be a bit more sabai definitely helped me to loosen up a bit and not to be too uptight about everything. Sabai sabai might even increase your life span.

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Sanook- Fun

Similar to all the traits mentioned before, we don’t really have that in Germany. Fun? Not sure if there’s a translation for that in the dictionary :P Seriously though in Thailand fun is way more important than back home. Lots of people spend lots of time at work (way more than those average 7 – 8 hours a day back home) and hence it’s important for them to always add some kind of fun to their daily routine. Therefore you will see TVs in basically every office you go to, lots of music, games, etc. being played wherever you go. Adding fun to work, studies, life in general is important and often the best way to motivate employees, colleagues or students.

Being more entertaining, less strict and having more fun. The exact opposite to a life in Germany. Another trait that, quite likely, improves the quality of life.

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Honorable Mention: Kreng Jai

You can read the appropriate article here: Understanding Kreng Jai in Thailand. – I’m still not good at that and not sure if I should practice it more as I still think that being honest and straight forward is, mostly, still the better approach. I can be kreng jai at times though when I feel it really is appropriate.

Which traits did you pick up after moving here? Shout out in the comments!

Sascha Funk

Founder / Editor at My-Thai.org
Sascha is the publisher of my-thai.org and switched from an online marketing agency life in Europe to a teaching and education life in Thailand. He also writes about Teaching & Technology.

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  • Prakin Chatteeraphat

    It seem like you are having less stress and tension living in Thailand than back home. It really makes me feel grateful that I was born in this country because some of Thai traits can even make the foreign feel more relax by living in this country. I am the one who very used to the smile thing when meeting somebody I know. Whenever I feel awkward with someone, I will use the smile to help me get out of that feeling.
    I got a friend who came from Malaysia. He really like the word “Mai pen rai”. He said, ” every times he miss the shot and I say this word to him, it will always make he feel more calm and it encourage him a lot.”

  • Varinthorn Witwarakoon

    Thai people is about making anything serious into funny things hahaha

  • Jade Maciag

    I’m glad Thailand has changed some of your traits into positive and calm traits! Of course it is important to be “sabai sabai” and worry less about things. However the “kreng jai” trait of Thai people might also be a burden because being too humble would also restrict people to express their opinions and sometimes when you express justice, Thai elders would regard it as offensive! (But that doesn’t stop me from loving how people treat each other like a family here in Thailand:) )

  • May Chiranakorn

    On the behave of Land of Smile, it’s our pleasure that you have changed your traits!:P Actually, I didn’t recognize some of those traits you mentioned that it always comes from Thai people such as ‘jai yen’, ‘mai pen rai’, ‘kreng jai’ and ‘sabai sabai.’ Therefore, I will try to use those words more to cheer up and encourage myself and people around me to be happier and perhaps can change their trait, just like you! :-)

  • Haha. Umm…thank you! ;-) I do think that traveling and living in different places changes one for the better and I’m certain that everybody can learn from foreign cultures, just like I did here :)

  • Just like classes and work for example ;-)

  • Fully agree, that’s why the Kreng Jai part is the extra add on. I can’t just fully embrace it and my (overly German) sense of ‘fairness’ and ‘everybody’s equal and has a right to an opinion’ still shines through, even though I should just keep it shut at times ;-)

  • To be honest sometimes I want to shout “PEN RAI” when someone tells me mai pen rai just about everything ;-) But that’s the German part in me and I try very hard to adapt and embrace the friendliness behind the mai pen rai – and it works better by now I think :)

  • Elle Thitakorn

    It’s important for Thai people not to take things so serious like other people from others countries. For me, as Thais, I personally believe that good mindset and comfortable personality of Thais can leads to a better decision. Characteristics of Thai people also create first impression which is good. I’m so glad Thailand has changed some traits of you to a better version! :)

  • Um Ntrch

    This article describes exactly about what I love about my own country. We all take it easy and happy at most of the time. I like how everyone is smiling at each other even if we don’t know each other. But those can also be bad sometimes because we have our bad days and don’t feel like smiling. If that happens, people will automatically take you as an aggressive person. Or sometimes they say “Mai Pen Rai” and after that they talk bad about you afterward. I mean sometimes its ok to to say what matters instead of just “Mai Pen Rai” all the time. I don’t know, it simply just “everything has two sides”, and to me it really is. But no matter what, these are still what I love about Thailand.

  • Jenny Chen

    All the words you wrote down in this article, it actually makes me re-think that it is a good thing about Thailand. A lot of times, when you just translate it word to word it will sound weird. However, using those words in Thai, it became words that cheer people up and make people feel better to themselves. In the Land of Smile, people are encouraging one another with those words, so using it in this country seem to be very normal. When I visited America, I realize people didn’t seem to say these words as much as Thai people. I feel that Thai people care about other people, so they just don’t want others to feel bad or feel down. That’s why those words are invented.

  • I wouldn’t necessarily say that one thing is better than the other. I think the ‘comfortable’ personality also leads to lots of ‘not so good’ decisions or lack thereof. I do believe that everybody can learn from each other though and hence become a better version of oneself :)

  • Wise words. I agree that it’s not completely super awesome, but also not bad of course. Like you said, everything has two sides – it’s important to find a good balance.

  • Thanks for your comment. I’m not quite sure however if that reflects that Thai people care more. I think it’s just a different way of expressing things. What really hurt me in the beginning for example was when Thai people at work would always keep calling me ‘fat’. Like ‘Hey Sascha, you got fatter’. I would get very hurt about that and people in Germany or the US would never say something like that. So, just like another comment here stated, everything has two sides and if you find the right balance, then it certainly helps to live a happier life :)

  • Chanittha Jiraporncharas

    Hahaha that’s so true. Well, atleast all traits that you mention are good things about Thai people!

  • Natcha Lohasawad

    Haha, seems that you adapted well to Thai culture. Thai people like to be sabai sabai to everything and turn serious things into funny things. But among the five traits, the only traits I have never picked up even I have stayed in Thailand for my whole life is smiling. I don’t why but I barely smile, which is not a good thing because people always think that I’m in the bad mood all the time.

  • Moné Pusanisa

    Hahahahahah theses are funny yet true ! And you seem to understand each trait well too. For me sometime I even forget to be “Jai yen” as Thailand is very hot. ….

  • Lol. And people in Thailand can also be very hot headed at times? :P I only know you as a ‘cool’ person though ;-)

  • Cindy Apichaya Pattanasirimong

    I think smile and honorable mention. It is the most action that found in myself hahaha. Because when I speak with the foreigner and I don’t understand what he/she saying, I will smile to him/her. And I’m very “Kreng Jai” too. I’m shy to ask the questions. Because he/she is the foreigner. :)

  • I really hope you’re not too shy to ask questions to me though! :)

  • Kewpla Kanchanaban

    I have to say I’m really impress about how you’re truly understand and accept either our traditional or our living ways which you’re not pretending to , yet you really understand why we do that. It’s like you put yourself in Thais’ shoes. This really makes me feel happy with your living here in our beloved country. But this article also shows me a different point of view. I have to admit that this article is a refection of some unseen point. It’s our ignorance of something that sometimes we’ve to concern by always say Mai Pen Rai. This can shows that Thais can be too Sabai Sabai and make us use to it, even in some events it’s not okay to say mai pen rai.

  • Ananda Chuensomsong

    I have to say that I truly appreciate your act of adjusting yourself to our culture, it’s very nice of you. I have seen other foreigners who are not willing to adjust nor understand our culture, and that’s a bad trait and may be even disrespectful to the country that you’re in. I admit that there are both good and bad traits of the thai culture, so only take the good ones and you’ll be fine! lol

  • Ginni Kiatfuengfoo

    Woww, all things you wrote about are actually very unique ‘Thai’ things! Of course we always ‘yim’ or smile to each other even we have no idea who we are talking to and we love to have fun and say ‘mai pen rai’ for everything :-) and that’s a good point if you can get used to it!! But some of them could have both pros and cons, for example, ‘Kreng Jai’ sometimes it can hurt yourself if you are too much of them! This is another thai’s fact blog that I very like to read how’s people from another country can notice our unique culture:-)

  • Machima Anantanasan

    Oh! I like this post! Actually, if somebody said he lose his original traits that might be a bad thing but you made it to a good thing which is great! I do like the word SABAI SABAI, I used to practice Thai boxing also and my trainer did say this word to me ;) However, these kinds of traits sometimes make Thai people to be too easy to live their life, thus they do not concern much on everything which is not good.

  • Jamie Chowpradith

    Wow! You seem to understand all of those traits correctly! First of all, I literally LOL while reading this😂
    Thai people smile A LOT. They can smile just because they’re happy, shy, have good intentions toward another person or even smile because they’re simply don’t know what to do, especially when they have to be in a conversation with foreigners. Well, smile with Ramsay Bolton? Well played, Mr.Funk! Oh about “Mai pen rai,” this is actually a universal phrase here! It can means “It’s okay, everything is going to be okay,” “Don’t worry about that, we got this,” to “It’s okay, whatever happened, happened.” I’ve found this post, a very very good definition for them traits and a funny blog post to read, as a Thai citizen ;-) Thank you for caring sooooo much about OUR country! I love your memes game by the way!

  • Thanks for the meme props. Appreciated ;-) I hope you also have lots of reasons to smile. After exams for example… ;-)

  • Lol. Same here! I’m just back form Muay Thai training and all the time during sparring when my coach kicked me ass he would always say ‘sabai sabai’. How am I supposed to be sabai when he hits me all the time? I guess I’m not completely Thai yet! Work in progress ;-)

  • Thx for your comment. The Kreng Jai is certainly controversial! That’s the one I struggle with the most!

  • Thanks a lot for the feedback! :)

  • Thanks a lot for your input. Appreciated! :)