Italy has many of the same factors that drive foreign men from northern European countries to seek love partners in Thailand. But there are differences between Italy and its northern neighbours notably the influence of the Catholic church and a reluctance among middle aged and older Italian man towards marrying their Thai partners of girlfriends. However, there has been a growth in younger Italian man breaking with tradition and finding Thai brides. Many of these are from Italy's northern region which has a more prosperous economy. Thailand and Italy are both ancient and historic nations with strong cultures and quite distinct senses of identity. To a Thai woman living in Italy, they are both similar but yet opposites.
Italy - destination fo skilled Thai women
Many of the Thai women who have married Italian men have a third level education and are prepared for the challenge of living in, what on the face of it is, a beautiful and distinctive country but which also one which has traditional values and quirks which make life in Italy very different for the new Thai brides. 'Italy is a beautiful place with good people but these are are also strong people who expect other people also to be strong,' says Pim Giordano. 'Italy can be a dangerous place for any Thai woman looking for an easy life and it is very easy to fall into the undercurrent of life here,' she warns. Pim has lived in Italy since 2010 and the the intervening years has become as strong as, if not stronger than, any Italian.
Two tales of Thai women in Italy
We speak with a young Thai wife and mother with an Italian husband but we also speak with an older Thai woman now living in Bangkok whose long term, elderly Italian love partner has recently passed away from cancer. These are two different stories about the plight of Thai women who find Italian partners or husbands.
'It was always my dream to live in Italy,' says Pim from her beautiful apartment in the inner city of Florence where she lives with her Italian husband. She has been living in Italy now for seven years and has absolutely no regrets.
Online meeting with her Italian romeo
'I met my Italian husband online when I worked at a hotel in Rayong in Thailand. I am from Udon Thani and trained in tourism so I worked in a hotel managing the restaurant. 'It's been good training that I've managed to put to good use in Italy. Meeting Paolo online was so easy, it still felt like a dream. From the start he was handsome, romantic and a gentleman. In four months he was in Thailand to visit me and it was the dream come true, step by step, for this Thai girl.'
'Paolo can speak English and Italian but now he also speaks a little Thai. We became engaged on his second visit and shortly afterward he brought me to Italy for the first time to meet his family and to get married. I was simply enchanted and in love also with the beauty of this place and I never get enough of it,' she says.
Italian Visa success for Thai woman after a nervous wait
'I was always interested in the Italian culture and the spicey life of the Romans. It was such a thrill for me to come to Italy in 2010 with my husband when we got engaged.' The couple had spent months submitting compex paperwork to the Italian embassy in Bangkok which is notorious for the difficulties created in respect of visa applications for Thai woman. Pim and Paolo had to submit a second tranche of documents following queries from authorities before, after a nervous wait, they were told that the visa would be granted.
Carla Boonkong says this must be understood in the context of the danger of abuse that exists. 'Italy is a key hub for international trafficking and the authorities have to be more vigilant,' she explains. 'The only way is to follow the rules and submit all the information in an honest and direct manner. Italy is not the place for a vulnerable young Thai woman to end up, that is the duty of care that the officials have.'
Joy of landing ant Rome and being in Italy
'I still recall the joy of traveling to Italy with this handsome Italian man and when we landed in Rome, I wasn't disappointed. What really surprised me was the beauty of the country when we reached the north of Italy. If I dreamed as a girl of the ideal place to live, it would be Florence. Of course I always loved the fashion world here in Italy and particularly here in Florence. That, Italian lifestyle and of course my Italian man and family, means I am so happy with my life right now.'
Family life of Thai woman living in Italy
Since Pim moved to Italy from Udon Thani province in Thailand in 2010, she hasn't really ever looked back although there have been tense moments and lessons to be learned. She has her own business, a two year old boy and a husband with a secure job with the government. Paolo's family live in a town near Bologna and they try to visit his family at least once a month. When they first arrived in Italy they lived with his parents until he received a posting in Florence. Pim was secretly delighted at the opportunity for the couple to 'go it alone' together in a big and exciting city like Florence. This was the real beginning of their life together. 'Whether in Thailand or Italy, family is important sure but it is also true that there can only be one woman in charge of every household, I wanted to have my own family,' she explains. We are about to hear the real story of a Thai woman in Italy.
Italian men and Italian women through Thai eyes
'It is true that the Italian man is very romantic, he is very warm,' says Pim. 'Like some Thai men, Italians have a the style, you know, the extra very sweet mouth and romantic eyes. Some Italian men can easily look at another woman. My husband is not like this, he behaves himself. But if I wasn't an old fashioned type of Thai girl, I could already have so many Italian lovers,' she laughs.
Pim feels that one of the striking similarities between Thailand and Italy is the importance of family and more particularly the men in the family. Also like Thailand there is certain machismo surrounding men and attitudes towards them. And yet it is very different.
Italians can be difficult for foreigners
'I sometimes find life in Italy just little lonely when I have too much time to think. But most of the time it's so great because Italians are great family people like we are in Thailand. They also so different. One of the things that was a discovery for me was how strong Italian women are. I can even say intimidating but I am lucky they have been very kind and supportive towards me,' she says. However Pim points out that she often feels that Italians, who love their own culture so much and with good reason, can be condescending to foreigners and even outright hostile. 'It is a very strange thing, these are people I love and I am so happy to be living in Italy but often I sometimes think that I do not understand them, the one thing I do know is that if you are honest and say things bluntly it helps, but this is not the Thai way.
Life in Italy can be lonely
So I've learned to change this. I think many people come to expect that Thai woman to be laid back and walk behind her husband. I support my husband in everything with all my heart but I am here in Italy not to wait about for things. So there are times some days when I sit in my coffee shop and hear the Italian people all about me. It could be a day when I have a problem or even a disagreement with my husband or his family and I feel lonely for Thailand,' she says. Pim explains that life in Italy, as is the case in most European countries, is simply harder. It's hard to define. 'There is an edge to life here that it not there in Thailand and it is this that makes me happy to go home to Thailand at least once a year, I am Thai woman and will always love Thailand.'
Sense of the Thai woman stereotype
'In Isaan and in many Thai families, it s the women or mother who takes care of things. This is not the same in Italy, the woman is so important in the family but she does everything through her husband, I think this is what is expected in Italy,' she says. Pim also reveals that Italian women can be intimidating. 'The Italian women I have met have been supportive. But they are all such very strong characters. The Italian women can let their men found know what is required and it is delivered. This is not like Thailand where often the Thai woman must do it for herself. Often they will think that I am some sort of bar girl. It's never been said to me because I am very proper, I make sure of this/ But I sense that there is this thinking out there about a woman from Thailand. This is a big problem for Thai women I think. Most foreign men and more so women, think of Thailand as the place for sex, holidays for men and of course elephants,' she laughs nervously. 'I certainly feel this is true and it can be also a problem when dealing with Italian men, more so when they are the flirtatious kind.'
Thai woman in Italy is 'super strong'
Pim has learned to be circumspect in Italy but also points out that at times a Thai women must speak her mind plainly which is quite difficult for a Thai women to do. 'There is an underlying current of thought with Italian people, you understand, they do not like lies or tall stories and it is better to be careful with your words but when you do speak, you must be definite. It can be quite intimidating and this is more the story with Italian women. Even no matter how polite and helpful they are, I have a sense that all of them have this same idea about Thai women from the low press. So, for this ,I have to be strong and show them what a Thai woman can do,' says Pim. 'The good thing is that I have learned that a Thai woman is super strong, in fact,' she laughs.
Thai woman jolts her Italian family
After not even two years in Italy, Pim shocked her husband's family be announcing and embarking on a plan to open her own business. This, is in a family of professionals and government employees who have always been on the left of Italian politics.
Pim tells us that after 6 months in Italy, she was a little restless. 'At the beginning we had Paolo's family as support and that was really nice. I knew a little Italian but I had to learn to speak with people on the street, you knew fluently.That is my first challenge and in the first years it also made me a bit anxious, she says.
Learned Italian from celebrity magazines
Pim reveals that she learned to speak Italian by regularly buying a woman's magazine about celebrity gossip and watching TV programmes about celebrities. 'I found that the news was the same and as spoken in English on some TV programmes and Italian in anothers. Then I could see the language in Italian on my magazine. I could sometimes buy the same magazine in English and compare the two,' she reveals.
Phone call from Thailand sparks Thai woman's dream
Pim found her first job at the end of the first year waitressing in a restaurant. But a phone call from Thailand sparked a new ambition. 'My father had saved money on an insurance scheme for me and he had 15,000 euros to send me,' she reveals. Pim surprised herself and her Italian family. 'I didn't want to put it towards a home outside the city or an apartment, I wanted to make my own business. 15,000 euros wouldn't be enough but it would be start,' she said. 'That was my idea, to me it was special money.'
High tax prompts Thai woman to business success
Her determination was prompted she says also be Italy's tax system. When she received her first salary payment two things surprised her. One was that that it was at the end of the week. That she was paid weekly in cash. Second was, that even though she was earning very little, she had to pay nearly 30% in tax. 'This made me ask questions and I could not believe that my husband had no problem with this,' she says. Pim discovered that even though her husband and his family were professionals, they had a trenchant belief in left wing politics. When she announced her intention to start her own business, it was a bit of a rupture. 'I argued with my husband about this. They had so many reasons why I could not or should not do it. About some things they were right and anyway I had to find more money, but I decided only to wait and prepare the plan for my own business.'
Italian family team together behind Thai wife
As it happens Paolo family helped Pim find the extra capital needed. More importantly, their left wing contacts provided the assistance need to find a way though many regulations and red tape in a city like Florence. So that in 2013, with 50,000 euros and 50,000 more borrowed from a bank, Pim opened her own coffee shop and bakery also serving light snacks. Her business located near via Degli Alfani in Florence, has been a success. 'It has surprised my husband and his family that I wanted to do it and that I think they are impressed that it has done so well.'
Again the Thai wife takes care of the money
Today Pim has her moderately successful small business and Paolo has a secure job. Like many Thai foreigner families living all over the world, Pim, the Thai wife takes care of the finances. Carla Boonkong, who has studied Thai women who have formed relationships and married foreigners across the world, says that this is near universal except when the Thai woman comes from a vulnerable background: 'In nearly every case where the Thai wife or relationship partner comes from a good family and has a good standard of education, they adopt the leadership role when it comes to money and finances. This is the Thai culture, you now. And from speaking to my colleagues across the world, I am told, that this also used to be a pattern in working class and lower middle class European households up to recent times,' she says.
Late night going out not such a good idea
Jind explains that the latest source of tension between her and her Italian husband is her late night opening hours for her coffee shop. 'It's a very busy time late at night and we do good business so we must be open,' she explains. Although Pim as staff some nights she has to be in the business or she can be called out. The coffee shop is within walking distance of the couple's apartment and Paoli worries for her safety. 'Florence is a big, brightly lit city, I feel safe here she says. However she acknowledges that there is some concern over migrants who loiter near some street corners or squares but she insists that she has always felt safe. However she tells that she has agreed not go out alone very late at night. Pim now plans to learn to drive and to buy a secondhand car. She has also appointed a night manager at her shop.
Nightly accounts a priority for Thai business woman
Paolo and Pim had a beautiful baby boy Luca two years ago, so she is a busy lady. They have put off the house outside the city and bought their own apartment near the business in the heart of Florence. Pim plans eventually to have two more children and some day buy a family home. For now it's about taking care of business.
Pim stays up late every night to update her books and insist that her business accounts are updated every month with a profit and loss statement. Her Italian husband and his family are still taken aback by her diligence towards her business and her command of her finances. Pims also pays her taxes on time.
'In Italy it is the culture to be seen to be generous and there is a feeling that money should not be so important. To me my little business is part of journey in Italy. I think about the money my father sent. My business is dear to me.' she says. Pim says there is a perception in the extended family in Italy that Pim is too concerned about money. 'Maybe because life has been hardened in Thailand or its an Asian thing but yes I think I am more conscious about money. To me it's the way for me to take care of my family'.
Thai wife and the Italian mother in law
In Thai culture the role of a wife is to support her husband. It is a very traditional and old fashioned view at odds with current western and certain feminist thinking. But it would be wrong to view this as submission or weakness.
In Thailand also and particularly in northern Thailand and Isaan there is, in fact, a matriarchal society. In many rural parts of Thailand land follows the line of women in the family and Thai women marrying husbands bring into the family where the matriarch is the leader. In Thai society overall it is women who control the purse strings and who are responsible in when it comes to family decisions. In marriage therefore it is considered essential that a new Thai wife pleases her mother in law.
Therefore it came as no onerous duty for Pim to find the in Italy she might be dealing also with a protective mother in law. In Italian society, going all the way back to the Romans, women have wielded power and have commanded enormous respect. However there is no doubt that Italy is a patriarchal society. 'Paolo's mother was so good to me and in my first year in Italy I do not think I would have made it without her support. I know many other women who come to Italy from foreign countries do not like the loyalty and love between an Italian mother and her son, but I find it a good thing, a wonderful thing.' she says.
However when an opportunity arose for her Italian husband to take a position in Florence, Pim grasped the opportunity for freedom. 'Yes, I thought it was important for us to be a family together. Culture is one thing but human nature another, my father always said that a husband and wife must learn to be a team. You cannot do this under the family umbrella forever,' she says.
Thai Freedom as opposed to Italian duty
Pim loves her life in Italy and her Italian husband. Her husband is strong and responsible while also be kind hearted and romantic. 'I would do this all and leave my life in Thailand behind to be with Paolo and little Luca. In addition she cites the easy way money can be found in Italy, if a person is willing to work hard and is honest. The icing on the cake is the beauty of the surroundings and the culture where she is living. However, she explains there is a price to be paid. Pim finds Italy to be very old fashioned and traditional but not in the Thai way. 'In Italy it's very formal, many people still go to Mass on Sunday. When people dress, everything must be right, this is what Paolo tells me often. People will talk about you if you are different or make anything too different. I am lucky that I am an easy woman and not difficult but I do not have the same freedom I had in Thailand or that any Thai woman has at home. The people in Italia are very strong and good people but I miss the easy heart of the people in Thailand just like I miss the easy weather.'
Middle aged thai woman and Italian accountant
Pim's fairytale story of a successful life at the heart of beautiful Florence with her handsome and romantic Italian husband contrasts sharply with Nam's story of life with an Italian man.
Nam was forty five when she met Fabio, a semi retired accountant from Rome in 2005. Her only family in Thailand was her brother. Both their parents had died when they were teenagers. Nam, from Korat in Nakhon Ratchasima province, had married a Thai man but the marriage collapsed when he fell into debt and alcoholism. In 1998, Nam was forced to flee to Bangkok and make a life working as a trader in Bangkok's local markets. 'It was a life, it was how I survived,' she tells us. 'I was happy to be free of so many problems but lonely.' When she heard about online dating, she thought that maybe life had more to offer here. It seemed like a good way to experience something different and she had heard stories of women, even her age, who had meet good western men or 'farang' online who had changed their lives. From an internet cafe every evening Nam spoke with western men all over the world.
Promise of a new life for a Thai woman
In 2005 it seemed like the answer to her prayers to meet a good man who was also quite handsome. He was fifty nine, attractive and although he was well off, he was quite careful with his money. All of this appealed to Nam as it was such a contrast to her earlier failed marriage. Fabio was from Rome. Like many Italians visiting Thailand, Fabio was separated from his Italian wife but because of his financial affairs and his family, he never finalized a divorce. Nam is unclear how Fabio obtained the necessary paperwork but she is certain the couple married in Bangkok in 2006. Fabio purchased a small condominium in Bangkok where the couple were based.
Thai wife moves to Italy
In their first years together Fabio spent months at a time in Italy before finally deciding to bring Nam to Rome also when she was able to get a visa. In Italy Name found that she was estranged from Fabio's family who seemed reluctant to meet here. 'He was a man who was very private and did not get so well with his family. I could speak a little English and I did not feel so welcome,' she said. Nam, with a limited education, felt overwhelmed and lacked confidence.
Return to Thailand after selling house in Italy
The Thai woman only ever remembers one family gathering with Fabio's family and although the Italian relations were polite, Fabio felt that they looked down upon her. 'I did not feel like Fabio's wife but instead something like a maid, I felt the women were very strange towards me.' In 2008, her husband decided to sell his family home and move permanently to Thailand. 'Our life was good, we had no money worries and I was happy to be back in Thailand,' says name who was also able to meet up again with her brother who loved on the outskirts of Bangkok.
Tragedy strikes Italian Thai couple
The tragedy struck. Fabio became sick in 2011, three years after the couple had returned to Bangkok to live permanently. 'It was cancer, my husband began to experience pain and the hospital did the tests. They told him first that they could treat him but the said he would die very shortly after this,' she recalls. As it happens Fbio only recently passed away in June 2017 but the six years were very hard for Nam. 'He began to lose control of his mind with the pain and then our money started to dry up. I had been counting on him for strength. And in the end it was I who had to be strong.' Nam admits that there were times when she thought about deserting her husband as she felt so helpless but knew in her heart it was something she could not do. She even turned to strangers and the hospital for advice as she had no family support.
Thai wife not sure of entitlements in Italy
In those six years Name tried to find out if she might be entitled to any financial supports when her husband died but she was unable to establish anything. When Fabio passed away, she spoke with his son who was very kind and thanked her for taking care of his father. Fabio was cremated in Thailand with a Buddhist funeral. None of his family came to be there. His son sent Name 2,000 euros days afterwards and has promised to look into her position in Italy. He has offered to send her more money once her husband's estate is finalised in Italy.
Relief for Thai wife after Italian husband dies
'I was so tired and under so much stress with my husband's sickness that after he died it was almost a relief. I still have our condominium and I had a good life with him. But I am not sure I would want to meet another man,' she says. She is planning to go back to her life as a market trader but still lives in hope of some sort of windfall or support from Italy, the land where her dream might have come true but ultimately died.
Carla Boonkong has seen similarly stories with Thai wives in Germany and other European countries. Her advice is:
- Thai women should be very clear when dating and meeting foreign partner as to your legal status and supports in the event of a family emergency or health crisis.
- If a Thai woman marries a foreign man in Bangkok or a marriage registry in Thailand then that marriage should also be registered in the home country of the foreign spouse. No marriage can legally take place in Thailand if the foreign man or proposed husband cannot show the absence of a legal impediment.
The story of Thai women meeting and marrying foreigners in Europe, the US, New Zealand and Australia continues but it is evolving as with more opportunities for Thai women and more younger western men following this path. This is offset by stronger immigration barriers and changing demographics both in Thailand and western countries.
There is no doubt that Italy is home to some of the happiest Thai wives in the world but it is a foreign country more to well educated and strong Thai women.