By Mark (from Scotland)
One massive advantage of having a decent Bangkok girlfriend is her lack of material desire when it comes to those special times of year that a Western woman would demand you get out the platinum card.
My girlfriend’s birthday is coming up and her response to my stress about what to get her is that I shouldn't bother.
I’ve seen it first-hand that Thai’s don’t particularly bother with birthdays, but my girl is westernised enough to realise that I expected a gift on my birthday. My birthday came first in the timeline of the relationship and I didn’t really get that birthdays weren’t a big deal until later on.
Of course, there is a difference in the celebration of a child’s birthday and an adult’s birthday.
For anyone who is unaccustomed to romance in Thailand, and the typical cross-culture issues that crop up, see my main page about Thai girlfriends.
In the past few weeks there have been a spate of birthdays. First my girlfriend’s mum and her grandmother, I don’t believe either of whom got anything particularly significant beyond a cake. Then it was both my girlfriend’s sister and nephew...
Bizarrely my girlfriend’s sister gave birth to her son on her own birthday, as did my girlfriend’s grandmother to her daughter. So of the six family members who live in this house, four birthdays are covered by a couple of days that are just a few weeks apart.
So what that means is that my Bangkok girlfriend’s sister’s birthday is totally overshadowed by her child’s. To be fair, that would probably happen in Western culture too. Everyone in the family got the child a gift. My girlfriend’s sister only got a pair of trainers from her husband.
The kid got a cake for school and a cake with the family the following day. My girlfriend’s sister got a share in the latter perhaps. The kid blew out the candles, but he also blew out the candles on my birthday cake and everyone else’s on their birthdays. He’s only four.
Buying the nephew presents is actually becoming a bit difficult now, it seems this family are always buying him gifts on a whim. I contribute to the problem by bringing him back things from the various countries I visit for work.
Those gifts don’t necessarily have much to do with the country I visit, though I did bring him back a boomerang from Australia and some toy nun chucks from Japan. Mostly it’s just toy guns. He likes guns. He never gets tired of shooting me.
If it was my child I probably wouldn’t approve of giving him guns, but as he already has a big pile of toy weaponry, I don’t feel I’m creating any future problems by adding to it. I’d concede that I’m probably exacerbating it.
The result is tantrums in shops when he sees a toy gun that he doesn’t have already, or even in some cases some toys he does already have. I was brought up hearing the lines, ‘put it on your Christmas list’ or ‘wait until your birthday.’
Has the rampant commercialisation at certain times of the year in the West actually hurt our rampant consumption at other points of the year? Or were my parents simply more frugal and wary of me turning out to be a spoiled brat than other parents? And does my girlfriend’s sister have such an excuse to use on her son?
I’m not expecting my girl will get much from her family for her 24th birthday. A cake seems to be expected. She is having a low-key gathering with friends, but as we are not planning to go out I doubt anyone will be buying her anything at all, not even the customary drink I would expect from my friends back home. Perhaps someone might bring some food or drink for the party that they are prepared to share.
It looks like I will probably be giving her the biggest and most important gift, by default, which is a pair of rollerblades, as that’s an activity she has expressed a desire to do a few times recently, but not something she will likely be expecting.
The cost was doubled as I had to get a pair for myself to go with her, but I think this will still be the best gift she gets, unless she has a really nasty fall or something as soon as she tries them on of course – quite likely as we are having a gathering that involves alcohol.
Thai girls also have little concern for Christmas. Christmas is a Christian holiday, so in a primarily Buddhist country there is no huge hype around it. Obviously the foreign influx has meant that there are plenty of Christmas activities and Westerners celebrating, but it’s nothing like the scale of the obsession around the event in the West.
Don’t expect your Bangkok girlfriend to even have the day off work. Fortunately mine works for Westerners and is given a couple of weeks off while the rest of the company jet off back to the UK to spend time with family.
We do exchange gifts on Christmas as well of course. I’ve spent my Christmases during our relationship at home however, so I’ve yet to witness a Christmas in Thailand. She says that they do sometimes exchange gifts for Christmas, but it’s not really a big deal or tradition.
Even her spoiled nephew only really celebrates Christmas at his international school. Santa only brings a sack full of presents to western children however, so his Christmas haul is piddling in comparison to what he could have expected had he been brought up in an equivalent middleclass western family.
Thai holidays, such as the Songkran festival, haven’t gone the way of Western holidays with rampant commercialism. Sure, everyone is selling water guns for the festival, replacement flip flops for when you lose yours in the mele, water, beer etc, but you just pick them up on the day; there aren’t three months of adverts for water guns to endure.
There is a tradition of gift giving on New Year, but that is more family to family than person to person. Thais sometimes seem to fail to have grasped the concepts of commercialisation that we have in the West.
For example, one of the cheapest beers I’ve had in Thailand was at an Army United football match. It appears that they haven’t grasped that as it’s half-time in the match and I only have 15 minutes to purchase goods, I can be fleeced for plenty more due to the lack of alternatives.
That perhaps explains why the traditions of gift giving on New Year, and celebrations on Songkran, haven’t gone the way of Christmas in the West as corporations seek to extract maximum profit from the events.
Before you say Christmas lends itself to commercialisation more than the equivalent Thai festival, what about Easter, Halloween, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day?
I actually quite like buying presents for people, so I’m not looking to avoid the responsibility of buying gifts for my girlfriend. It’s actually me who pushes the gift giving celebrations on her, but there’s none of the pressure that there is back home. My gifts have ranged from $10 to $150 in cast. If it’s late it’s fine, if it’s not particularly thoughtful, or a blatantly selfish gift, there isn’t going to be a problem.
Don’t expect to save money by getting a girlfriend in Bangkok, but there is a compelling argument to date a girl there if you want to escape the overly consumerist culture of the West.
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