In July this year troops from the 13th Infantry Regiment in Udon Thani will make up a large part of the 8oo strong Thai Task Force 980 which will be undertaking a United Nations (UN) peace-keeping operation in Sudan. After the UN’s successful deployment of Thai soldiers in East Timor the unit will be asked to arm themselves with Thailand’s best and most potent weapon. The Thai smile (yim).
UN officials were impressed by the Thai military personnel on duty in East Timor where their friendliness and smiles won them many friends amongst the Timorese people. The soldiers will be paid a minimum US$1028 (34,000 baht) for their efforts. That should make their smiles even broader.
Thailand is well known as the Land of Smiles and any first time visitor to the Kingdom cannot help but quickly see the reasons why. You are greeted with the Thai smile everywhere you go.
The western world does have its smiley people but facial expressions are the reader of each others emotions and love, joy, hate, anger and sadness are all too evident to see in western society. The Thai smile masks many of those feelings.
Thai blog site Absolutely Bangkok’s excellent post The Thai Smile unravels what is behind the happy expression on seemingly every Thai persons face…..‘That smile – called “yim” in Thai – is a most captivating tool disarming the most cold-hearted foreigner. Deep down though that famous smile is more of a self-defense than a deeply felt expression of the heart’…….Bangkok Dan’s post goes on to list the many different Thai smiles and what really lies behind them. Here’s a sample.
- yim tak tai: The polite smile, used for strangers
- yim mai ork: The forced smile
- yim yair-yair: The smile to apologize and take the heat out of an awkward, embarrassing situation
Here’s a few smiles for you to try and work out what’s behind them.
The Thai smile is sometimes used as a way of saving face and to smooth over awkward situations. An embarrassing mishap such as spilling a glass of water over someone can be soothed with an apologetic smile and in the opposite case the same expression can ease the discomfort felt by someone after their own act of clumsiness.
Thai’s are generally happy jovial people who give out a feeling of both inner and outer calm. Their smile is evidence to all around that they are cool headed and in control, even if they are not. Confrontation and crisis can be pacified and minimized with the right kind of smile. An argument can be won by simply smiling and acting rationally. A Thai smile is body language wrapped in a white coat of enamel.
The most used smile in Thailand is the welcome smile, normally accompanied with the traditional Thai wai. To the average tourist the wai smile is a natural one but behind it can lie worry and frustration caused by living life on as little as US$150-200 a month. Of all the things you wear, your expression is the most important – Janet Lane. I think this saying sums up the Thai smile best of all.
Travelling around Thailand is made more pleasurable by the warm smiles that greet you, smiles that not only make you feel welcome but safe and sound. A warm smile can melt the thickest ice and in Thailand’s markets, shops, restaurants, bars and hotels the Thai smile is always there.
The only problem you may face is knowing what type of smile is being cast at you.
Photograph Thai Soldiers by wise kwai
© 2010, Martyn. All rights reserved.