Dear Pa Farang,
A serious matter of money is endangering the relationship between me and my Thai girlfriend of one year. I’m not a cheapskate, take her out to nice dinners, and buy her nice things. She’s a sweetheart, and we both talk of marriage. She wants to take me upcountry in Isaan to meet her friends and family, but insists I give her $200 to send to the family in advance of our arrival. This smacks of extortion, and has led to more than one argument (I’m not paying!) Am I being conned, or being foolish?
– I’m No Fool, No Siree
Dear No Fool,
Do you know her well enough to have determined that she’s a good egg and will treat you right after you’ve tied the knot? One year isn’t a whole lot of time. If we give her the benefit of the doubt, she’s honoring you by providing a situation in which you can be “pooh yai” (the big fella), and treat her fiends and family to a nice meal and party in which you (as the farang who will soon be joining the family) are the host. Taking you upcountry isn’t the same as meeting the girl’s parents in your own land. In Thailand, it represents a virtual marriage, and, as such, all her friends and family will want to meet you. They, however, will not be able to pay for it. In the concept of “pooh-yai”, the person who makes the most money, or has the higher status, takes on the responsibility and honor of paying for the meals of others. This, in return, honors you, your future wife, and her family. And in truth, it’s her family that you’re actually marrying, warts in all. Among Thai people, very little is as important as supporting one’s family, especially when the individual is a westerner. Thais think all westerners are rich. And they are, compared to upcountry standards. You may have to draw the line somewhere, though. Being pooh-yai necessarily doesn’t mean you’ll buy dad a pick-up truck, or a house for the family.
My advice is to discuss, alone with your girlfriend, the nature of being pooh-yai and saving face, and determine what she perceives the responsibilities of pooh-yai to be, before, during, and after the marriage itself.
– Pa Farang
Read Pa Farang’s other columns for more advice on relationships in Southeast Asia