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Practical tips for understanding marriage customs in Thailand and marrying a Thai woman

 

Tuesday 9th October 2012 2:08pm

Foreigners advised to learn more aboutThai customs and marriage etiquette

Thai women have a particular attitude to marriage and this may be reason for new figures showing a healthy success rate between Thai wives and foreign partner even where the foreigner is older.

The growth in the numbers of foreigners who marry Thai women and find Thai girlfriends or relationships in Thailand has spawned a whole industry in books defining the perfect recipe success in love and marriage for foreign men seeking a Thai woman.

The answer is to know the culture and Thai customs. Observing Thai marriage customs can contribute significantly to a successful marriage in Thailand between a Thai woman and a foreigner. There are several marriage customs that should be observed in Thailand, and your prospective Thai bride and her family will appreciate you being aware of them. These are also the key to developing a practical understanding of marriage to a Thai woman in Thailand.

Marriage in Thailand involves observing different customs to those that foreigners to the country might be used to. In fact, this does not only apply to Thai marriage customs but to anywhere else in the world. Many Orientals, and even Europeans, might be bemused by the American wedding 'shower party,' which is typically North American.

Yes, it has spread to other western and Asian countries, but the wedding shower is a western marriage custom. Thailand has its own wedding customs of which any foreigner marrying a Thai woman should be aware and might also find quaint. Nevertheless, they must be observed unless you want to be regarded as an unacceptable groom!

The divorce rates between all Thai-Thai couples and Thai-foreigner couples are very similar at around 20% - lower than in western countries in this day and age. In fact, one source puts the divorce rate between young Thai brides and elderly foreign husbands at only 25% although anecdotally, this might be higher.

The available evidence indicates that marriage in Thailand between Thai women and foreign men is no less successful than marriage with young Thai men. However, there is also evidence that the most successful marriages are those where the foreigner makes an effort to conform to Thai marriage customs.

There is a great lack of understanding of the customs involved in dating Thai women , and of the customs that should be followed when a foreign male wishes to marry a Thai female. Here is some information on these customs to enable you to get a better feel for what is expected of a foreign suitor and potential husband by his prospective wife and her family.

Thai courting customs

It is customary for a young single Thai woman never to go on a date alone. Most American and European men would find this very old-fashioned and restrictive. However if you want to be accepted by her family, then you should respect her family's customs. In most cases this will be no more than a token observance of the custom, and be abandoned after the first date - but not always!

In order to understand how modern-day Thai customs have developed, it is necessary to look to pre-Vietnam War days, and how the American and Australian presence in this part of Asia affected Thai marriage customs.

Traditional Thai marriage customs

Traditionally, young Thais would not court unchaperoned by family members for several months. The purpose was to ensure that no inappropriate physical activity took place between the two, and also for the family to assess the suitability of young man as a husband.

In many cases, young Thai women were not allowed to spend time alone with a young man under any circumstances. In fact, until recently, a Thai woman would not date a guy unless she considered him a potential husband. Thais did not date as westerners date, but the whole family became involved.

Naturally, nature wins, and some family members could be bribed to disappear for an hour or so, but that does not alter the fact that marriage in Thailand did not take place until the family agreed. If a young woman became pregnant, then father had to marry the woman - or else! However, in general, the Thai marriage customs ensured that the woman's family agreed that the man was a suitable husband.

During and after the Vietnam War, American and Australian money played a great part in relaxing such customs. However, although relaxed, they still apply, particularly where the prospective bride's family see the opportunity to make money from the groom. Not all Thai families are like this, but in many of the very poor areas of the country it is understandable for them to take this approach. Americans rarely encounter the degree of poverty suffered by inland Thai families.

Sin Sot: Thai marriage dowry

Perhaps before we discuss this quaint custom and we should point out that to Thais, marriage is also a sacred pact between a man and a woman even where the marriage is between a Thai and foreign man (farang). Thailand is a developing country where each individual must rely on themselves and to a lesser extent, the family unit for support and survival.

Thai women often see marriage as a practical step and consider carefully the suitability of any man to provide as is the case in western societies except in Thailand, the matter is approached more practically. Although a foreign man might generally be considered a good marriage option for a Thai woman with limited prospects, there is also honour involved.

The sin sot, also known as the bride price, is part of the marriage negotiation. Although outdated, it is still an integral part of modern Thai marriage custom. It is often looked upon as being a ritual than an actual handing over of money, and where cash is passed from the groom to the bride's father it is often returned - but not always. This is where the origins of a young bride become important.

There are many extremely poor areas of Thailand where young women actively seek out western men as husbands, so that their families can benefit from the sin sot. In such cases, the family might ask for very high sums in exchange for their daughter's hand in marriage - and will keep it. If you are not financially rich, then be careful who you decide to marry, because it might cost you more than you can afford.

If you do intend asking your young Thai girl friend to marry you, it is important that your family talks to the girl's family to discuss the marriage and the sin sot. Thais don't expect foreigners to actually send their families to Thailand, and it is perfectly acceptable for you to nominate and pay a Thai elder to act for your family in this respect. Make sure this person has your interests at heart and not those of your bride's family!

Virginity is traditionally important

The origins of the sin sot are hidden in the past, although the concept of the 'bride price' is not new, even to the west. It was a form of guarantee that the bride was a virgin - the groom paid the family to ensure that this was the case. Not now, of course, but it is still a means of the bride saving 'face'.

If the woman was cheated by the man, the sin sot was to offer her cash in recompense. By paying the sin sot, the groom is accepting her as a virgin (even though she may likely not be.) In Thailand, even today, men still do not like the idea of marrying a woman who has been with another man, particularly a divorcee or a mother. If it is proved that she has been unfaithful, it is tradition that the sin sot is returned to him.

Most of the customs observed with regard to the events leading up to marriage in Thailand have evolved over the years to protect the prospective bride. They are intended to prevent the young woman being taken advantage of, and protect her valuable virginity until she is married. The sin sot is intended to offer the groom some form of security that this is the case, and is returned to him if not.

Divorce between foreigners and Thai wives

If the foreigner brings benefits to the woman and her family, many flaws can be overlooked, at least initially. The problem with this is that, after a period of familiarity, these flaws and faults become more important to the woman. Among these might be hygiene issues, being overweight, of advanced age and refusing to observe local Thai customs. A key issue in most divorce cases cited disputes over a property or land holding usually in the name of the Thai wife. This does happen. In Thailand land must be owned by Thais, foreign men should know that this law is strict and ways around it are fraught with dangers. From personal experience, I would say that if a foreigner buys land in Thailand from the Thai womans family for instance to build a home and the home is in her name, this does increase the risk of divorce but I have would still say that this is the exception. I am actually struck by the practicality and sincerity of Thai women and Thais generally where marriage with a foreigner is concerned,' says one Australian who has worked with the authorities in Thailand.

While a Thai wife would normally have been shamed if she divorced her husband for such issues, it is becoming more common for this to happen. In fact, although it is rare, there are cases where some Thai women marry westerners for their money with the intention of divorcing them later. Up to modern times, this would have been considered shameful but new laws in Thailand protecting the rights of Thai women, the growing numbers of Thai foreigner marriages has been such incidences more common: There are more and more foreign men seeking Thai wives or girlfriends now, Id say for very foreigner that gets a bad shake, there are two innocent Thai women who have been let down, unfortunately there are some foreign men now coming to Thailand who are simply not responsible or have no substance.

In fact, there are now many Thai media stories focusing on Thai women who have been abused. One result of this is that stories of Thai women taking advantage of foreign men are often not reported. The law in Thailand favours the Thai woman, but it is also fair. My advice to any foreign man interested in marriage here is to treat Thailand and Thai women with respect and to also thread cautiously.

While there are more reports of divorces in courts in the North of Thailand, marriage and divorce records still indicate that a large majority of marriages between Thai women and foreigners are successful over a 10 year period.

Most Thai families have a sense of decency

One key bit of advice to foreign men is to get to know the family of the Thai woman if considering a relationship. No ones family is perfect but in Thailand the family unit is the key support network and not the state, you will see very clearly the nature and character of the Thai woman by the nature of the family when you are introduced.

Fortunately there are few Thai families who do not have a sense of honour and decency, and if you decide to marry a nice Thai woman for love and make an attempt to observe the Thai marriage customs, then marriage in Thailand to the girl of your dreams will work for you, and you will be the happiest guy in the world! Thai wives are traditionally very loving and caring for their husbands and their families, and are also very intelligent. Many Thai women are active in helping run their husbands businesses- or even have their own!

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Thai marriage customs reflect the traditional attitude of Thai women towards marriage in Thailand
Foreigners thinking of marrying a Thai woman learn that Thai marriage customs and the culture surrounding marriage in Thailand are a little different.
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