Thailand loves its TV dramas – otherwise known as lakorn – and if there’s one subject that pops up night after night, it’s marriage.
Aired nightly on seemingly every local channel, each lakorn presents the same story wrapped in different plots. You know the type: poor girl meets rich guy, bad mom wants HiSo girl for her classy son, pretty secretary falls in love with her handsome boss, or any other plausible plot that involves money and love.
But, no matter what the details, you always know how the lakorn will end: boy and girl get married. End of story; no other possible outcome.
We’re told that Thai girls want to get married. And that Thai parents want their daughters get married even more.
If two Thai lovers live near each other with their respective families, they won’t live together until they take the marriage vows – because it would be shameful to live in sin.
Pretty straightforward, if old-fashioned. But what happens if a Westerner thinks about marrying a Thai girl?
First of all, we need to understand that the moment will happen. Sooner or later, the subject of marriage will always come up.
If a foreigner stays long enough in a relationship with a Thai without mentioning marriage, she’ll start talking. Especially if she’s over 30 and her family live close by. The clock’s ticking and there’s no time for coquettish refrain.
If that happens – and it will happen – get ready.
Because when a Thai wants to marry a foreigner, she will expect the guy to do the right thing. Or, better said – the Thai thing.
This right thing is, for sure, not your right thing. Or at least not the thing that you expect in your culture, and that could be a problem.
Weddings are one of the best illustrations of how Thais react to the clashing of two different cultures. They can smile at your points of view and opinions, but they won’t care to compromise. They expect the foreigner to do the Thai thing.
Because it’s the right thing to do, isn’t it?
A good piece of advice is that if you don’t feel comfortable doing the Thai thing, try to negotiate everything instead.
Many foreigners accept a lot of situations in Thailand that they wouldn’t in their own countries, just because it’s a Thai thing and we have to go along with it.
But you don’t have to. You can always say that your culture is different and that it’s necessary to find some middle ground when it comes to marriage.
The biggest issue that a foreigner will confront when marrying a Thai girl is usually sinsod – the quasi-dowry paid by the man to the girl’s parents in order to marry her.
Most of the issues surrounding sinsod depend upon the individual girl and her family.
In a situation where the parents are comparatively poor, they may think you have plenty of money and so demand a higher dowry to be paid. But if the gal comes from a middle class Bangkok family, for instance, compromises may be proposed. Displaying the money on the day of the ceremony but taking it back after the guests have left is relatively common.
Thai men negotiate sinsod depending on the money they have and expect something of similar value in exchange, like property. Other times they will just show the money at the ceremony and take it back afterwards.
Many Thai families will appreciate that sinsod is not a Western cultural expression and you should feel free to negotiate as well, just as Thai men do.
One thing: if the girl is Christian, there’s usually no talk of sinsod, since it’s more of a Thai Buddhist tradition. And if she’s Muslim, sometimes – only sometimes – a gift of 125 baht is accepted, as a nod to the amount the prophet Muhammad offered to his brides. Of course, you can expect more complications in this case as the family of a Muslim girl will always expect the groom to convert to Islam.
But after the dowry has been paid, does the wedding continue as it typically would in the West?
Not at all.
If you follow Thai Buddhist procedure by the book, the girl will have to stay at her house the whole day before the wedding. Then, very early in the morning on the day of the wedding – it’s pretty hot here, remember? – the groom will have to outfit himself in Thai traditional dress and lead a parade to the house of the girl. This tradition is called khan maak.
The weirdest part of khan maak is when the parade arrives at the house of the bride.
Between both lovers there will be ten ‘gates’, each of them formed by two girls and a rope. For the groom to cross the gates, he has to say something funny and, of course, give some money in envelopes to each girl.
Yes, the groom has to pay to move forward to see his bride. Oh, Thailand! Always paying to take what you want.
After the religious ceremony – at that point the girl has probably already prostrated on the floor to show you respect – comes the party, usually held in a hotel. Cue a lot more Thai things…
Asians love to take pictures; we all know that. So, at the hotel there will be a very big background set up for the guests to take photos with the couple. The bride and groom have to stay for hours in front of this background – especially if there are 400-odd guests, as Thais like to invite even people they don’t know – while all the guests stay inside another room eating and drinking.
When the couple finally makes it into the hall, everyone else has probably already finished eating. So they won’t usually eat much but instead have to move straight into throwing the flowers, cutting the cake and listening to the speeches.
Yes, just like in the west, someone will usually make a speech. What’s funny is sometimes this MC is someone that the couple have never even met. The bride’s parents will have selected a man or woman of some social standing to make the speech so as to show face.
Have you ever wanted a total stranger to make the main speech on your special day? Your dream can come true in Thailand.
Guests usually leave the party before 10PM, unless the newlyweds offer an after-party until midnight. After that, it’s time to count the envelopes of cash and go home.
Of course, if you’re a foreigner you can choose whether you want to follow these traditions or not. Thai weddings can be both really fun or extremely boring – especially if customs are followed to the letter – so it’s a good idea to say your piece and find a compromise.
Maybe you’ll be lucky – perhaps your new family will relish the opportunity to mix Thai and Western influences into your wedding.
Whatever happens, just try to enjoy the ride…
Featured image is via Stuff Happens