In the West we have a saying “Don’t
judge a book by its cover.” Certainly a fine idea and ideal but the reality
is that it is a hard one to live up to. From the very language we use to
describe strangers to the idea that someone “looks scary enough to cross to
the other side of the street”, we spend each and every day checking people
out, summing them up and placing them somewhere in a slot inside our brains.
This awareness of strangers must surely hearken back to the days of small
tribes who learned to quickly assess strangers and the dangers they may or
may not pose to the tribe. Indeed, it is something we try to teach small
children; to be careful of contact with strangers and to learn to assess the
risk they may or not may offer.
And yet we all think it’s a “bad thing” to judge others by their appearance,
something that is more widely acknowledged as being acceptable in Thailand.
But are they wrong?
Perhaps Thai people are just more honest about the fact that they are doing
it, rather than hiding behind platitudes. Thai people do care about how they
appear to others; they care about how others appear to themselves.
Appropriate dress and behavior is paramount in this country and anyone who
thinks they can get away with dressing like a hobo or acting in a boorish
manner with no consequences is simply working hard at convincing themselves
their bad behavior is ok. Even in the West people will pay the price for
dressing like a hobo or behaving boorishly, it just may not be as obvious as
it is here.
I recall traveling in Bangkok after attending a job interview quite a few
years ago, normally when I am in Bangkok I am clean and nice but casual.
After all, I don’t work there. However, this day I was dressed in very nice
business clothes and looked very professional. The change in behavior
towards me was marked. Nice, it is true, but noticeable at how much more
respect I received simply based on my dress. I have found that this rings
true in my own country as well and that the more professional I look, the
better service I receive. I always wonder at the people who show up for a
flight dressed in what appears to be their pajamas. When did we in the West
think that dressing appropriately became unimportant? It shows a distinct
lack of respect and good manners, I believe. Perhaps this is something that
could be added to the non-existent booklet that should be handed out to
tourists visiting Thailand?