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The Thai Smile

Sometimes a Thai smile is just that - a smile. It's common for Thais to smile when receiving a courtesy, like holding open a door for someone and when you receive service in shops.

In Western countries, not smiling is common and a serious or bland look is considered normal. In Thailand a serious look or a frown can be misinterpreted as anger or hostility. So smiling more is a good idea in Thailand

But the Thai smile, so famous to all visitors, is just a little more than a smile. It is often a sign of embarrassment, or distaste. In the 70s, an Egyptian airline pilot mistook the lights of a factory for the runway and crashed on top of the factory. Many victims died a hideous death by burning. At such times of disaster, various groups - the Red Gaurs, a volunteer ambulance brigade, for example - are called in to take the bodies to morgues, and I well remember a picture in the Thai newspapers of a Thai carrying a body so hideously burnt that it had been reduced to half its normal size. The Thai carrying this horrifying object was smiling. But not from any sense of comedy; it was his natural facial reaction to horror.

So study the Thai smile - it's not always what you think it is. It often hides embarrassment or indecision, so examine the circumstances carefully if a smile but no answer, is offered.