Every Tuesday Chiang Dao in Northern Thailand has a bustling and colourful authentic Thai market where people from the surrounding area come to sell and buy local produce and cheap clothing. Its filled with good vibe and energy from the enthusiastic sellers and buyers, mostly smiling local ladies. The market is a perfect place for catching the famous Thai smile and to find out what's behind it...
According to Henry Holmes' and Suchada Tangtongtavy's precise observations (Working with the Thais), there are at least one dozen of different Thai smiles. They can be found at Chiang Dao's vibrant Tuesday market where both sellers and buyers perform each of the Thai smiles smiles with flawless accuracy:
- the hearty “I’m so happy that I’m crying” smile (yim thang nam taa),
- the polite smile from someone you barely know (yim thak thaai),
- the very controlled yet beautiful “I admire you” smile (yim cheun chom),
- the stiff smile, also known as the “I should laugh at the joke though it’s not funny” smile (fuen yim),
- the devious smile which masks something wicked in your partner/opponent's mind (yim mee lessanai),
- the teasing or the “I told you so” smile of your partner/opponent (yim yaw),
- the “I know things look pretty bad but there’s no point in crying over spilled milk” smile (yim yae-yae),
- the "I am not happy" smile of real sadness (yim sao),
- the dry smile, also known as the “I know I owe you the favour but I don’t want to do it” smile (yim haeng),
- the “I disagree with you” smile, also known as the “You can take the photo but this is not a good idea” smile (yim thak thaan),
- the “I am the winner” smile, the smile given to a loser (yim cheua-cheua),
- the encouraging “you can take the photo” smile (yim soo-soo),
- the concealing and polite “I’m trying to smile but can’t” smile (yim mai awk).
Well, save face now and find out which photo below represents which smile…
The expression "to save face" describes the lengths that a person may go to in order to preserve her or his established position in the society, taking action to ensure that one is not thought badly of by their peers. The (in-)famous Thai smile in all its versions and nuances belongs to this interesting psychological category.
A piece of advice for farangs at beginner level: smiling and nodding (and wrinkling the nose) is very often Thai body language for "go away and leave me alone"...
More portrait photographs with Thai smiles in Matt Hahnewald's