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Losing face in Thailand is BS

Often times when I get into conversations with guys at the bar, I let them share all of their “expertise” while I just sit back and listen. Naturally everyone thinks they’re an expert, but I’m not very confrontational so I let people go on and on regardless of whether or not they’re right or wrong. One topic of conversation amongst expats has confused me more than any other; the element of Thai Face.

So as most of you know, if you lower someone’s “face” you are believed to be attacking their reputation, their social standing, and even their honor. Their reactions to this vary greatly, but extremely volatile reactions to losing face aren’t uncommon. You can trigger the emotion accidentally, or just with a simple culture clash on humor or attitude. Most Thai’s and Asians will usually be open minded enough to understand the culture clash and will realize that there were no bad intentions, but others won’t be so forgiving and may become hostile.

You may innocently correct someone, not to be an ass, but because you figure they’d appreciate the correct information. But that could actually be enough to set someone off who feels they lost face if their friends are around. There are infinite examples of a westerner doing something without any bad intentions and finding themselves in a bad situation. You could be at dinner and a Thai can offer to pay; trying to be as nice as possible you insist on paying. Depending on the situation he may feel that he has lost face. It goes on and on but you get the idea.

There are really only two ways a conversation with a supposed “expat veteran” can go when it comes to “losing face.” I’m talking about the man who has been coming to or living in Thailand for decades and thinks he is the official Mr. Thailand; we all know the type.

1) They will tell you that it’s important to understand its existence so that you can avoid problems. They will say that it’s not necessarily right or fair, but you need to be aware so you don’t set the wrong person off.


2) They will tell you that you must respect it and appreciate it as a part of the culture. IF you insinuate that you think it’s a bit ridiculous at times they will chastise you as not being tolerant of cultures that are significantly older than your own.

So in my opinion the 1st line of thinking, basically warning you about it, is dead on. Newcomers to Thailand or anywhere in Asia for that matter should indeed know the deal so they can avoid a confrontation.

And in my opinion the 2nd line of thinking is a total joke. I’m sorry but when someone gets the crap kicked out of them because someone felt a bit embarrassed by something they said, we have a phrase for that where I come from and it’s called, “acting like a f’n 5 year old.” I respect the culture when it comes to certain aspects of Face as it relates to being aware of other people’s feelings and never intentionally trying to embarrass someone or put them down. I dig that! But when someone uses the excuse of “Face” as a justification for doing something totally crazy or even violent simply because they felt that someone was being a bit condescending towards them, I have a huge problem with that. We have another saying for that kind of behavior where I come from and it’s called, “Assault," and it results in a year in lock up. Try telling a rational judge or jury back home that you only cracked someone’s head open because they were making fun of you. But what bothers me even more than the fact that there are people around who don’t’ feel the need to control their anger and their temper are the expats who furiously defend these types of actions. You hear of many stories where a Farang was beaten because of a Thai face issue; but the reactions to these stories range from: “You really have to be careful with things like that,” to “well, I’m sure he got what he deserved.” Sorry but nobody deserves to be physically harmed because their jokes were misinterpreted as being offensive. Even if someone was acting like an ass they don’t deserve that.

There isn’t a lot that can be done about it; is the way it is. But that does not mean we have to like it or that we can’t discuss the ridiculousness of it amongst ourselves. Face is a somewhat controversial topic so I’m sure there will be some who can’t wait to disagree with me, bring it on….Comment section below. I once heard that a Westerner was imprisoned in Indonesia and was very quickly proven to be not guilty. However they kept the man locked up for a few extra weeks to save face for the Police Chief who helped bring him in. I will always be aware of this type of thing so I can avoid problems, but I’ll never appreciate it, respect it, or like it.

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About ParadiseCity

M. Schwartz is an expert in all things Thailand. Having seen and done it all, there is nobody more equipped to teach about a successful ex-pat transition to Thailand. He wrote the cult classic guide book for men in Thailand called, How to Get the Most Bang for Your Buck in Thailand

31 Responses to Losing face in Thailand is BS

  1. Kris October 18, 2012 at 7:31 am #

    Haha I agree, like asking a someone here for directions and they will tell you where to go even if they dont know it, and you and up walking the opposite direction of where you wanted to go, just because they didnt wanna loose face and say they dont know where it is :p

    • SAM May 5, 2023 at 11:14 am #

      this is just a cliche that isn’t true and is always tossed around by ever Tom Dick and harry falang…. In fact, the other day i asked for directions and the guy looked at me and said “I dont know”…

  2. Dean October 18, 2012 at 7:45 am #

    yeh its a bit shit.. agreed…

    but i suppose thats the thing about living in a foreign country.. do things their way.. and if you dont like it, go to a country where you like ‘the way it is’

    im sure in the US (or many other countries – Australia included) if you walk in the wrong neighborhood and look at someone the wrong way it can easily result in “what are you looking at” followed by either a stabbing or a shooting.. its not right, but it still exists…

    every time i hear something about thai’s loosing face i always remember this video


    while i dont really like watching some douche get knocked out (even tho i lol’d), i still think dont go to another country unless you are ready to play by their rules..

    drunken expats can be a real disgrace to watch sometimes.. still dont think violence is the answer..

  3. Jake October 19, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

    I totally agree with you.

    It’s sort of like when you have a guest over at your house, and they tell you about all the things that are wrong with your place. But they don’t leave. Oh no. They just hang out and talk about your crappy house.

    We totally should invite ourselves to live in their country, and then tell them that they act like five year olds. Bravo, finally telling it how it is!

    Here’s this comment, to offer solidarity, in the spirit of the discourse. Cheers!

    • Brian Sumpter October 19, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

      Commiting assualt, and having coups is acting like 5yos! But people get shot over road rage in the USA too!

      • ParadiseCity October 20, 2012 at 6:38 am #

        and Brian, committing assault over road rage is not tolerated in the U.S. that’s the difference. When I wrote this I knew there would be a few folks like the ones I described who just have to defend the “face” excuse. I clearly stated that i like it when it applies to being aware of other’s, but attacking someone over a misunderstanding or a slight embarrassment is indefensible. You’d be a fool to argue that, but then again the world does have more than a few fools, so let’s hear more about how you deserve to go to the hospital because you blocked a Thai guy’s shot in basketball or because you looked at a Thai guy the wrong way in his opinion. Keep it coming guys; I love it. A bunch of truely Thai spirited expats we have don’t we?

    • ParadiseCity October 20, 2012 at 4:57 am #

      Jake is cool wit someone getting a bottle broken over their face for a culture clash of humor. Jake is also really good at using sarcasm without over doing it.

      condoning violence for the accidental cause of embarrassment?? you guys are better than that.

      • Dean October 20, 2012 at 9:47 am #

        While i don’t think anyone has condoned violence, I think it’s more of a case that’s expats going to another country and not accepting the local terms.. And trying to make the country adapt to them.. Ain’t gunna happen.. At least not in Thailand 🙂

        The violence is an individual’s choice I really don’t think it’s the country, I think the percentage of people would not react violently vs violently would be much much higher. it’s up to the individual.. Every one uses an excuse for Violent behavior, The face option might be an easy choice

        Like road rage in US.. While some people react violently, I don’t think it is the majority.. And then I’m sure tree would be an excuse for the reason they did it.. Maybe drug addition, or pride.. Who knows..

        It’s the things like ‘Thai face’ that make the country what it is and what we love.. (Excluding the violence) Like it or not.. TITS

        If Thailand was changed to ‘the way things are back home’ why would be bother to even go to Thailand 🙂

        The place is far from perfect and the inconstancies drive me crazy.. But because its such a random unpredictable place is the reason I love it so much..

        • ParadiseCity October 20, 2012 at 9:57 am #

          No, this article clearly is about Thai’s who do use violence when totally unwarranted and about the Expats who condone it so they can really be in touch with their “Thai side.” I did not write about the stupid drunk sex tourists who catch a beating for doing things that would catch them a beating in most places. I specifically did write about the times when the use of force comes into the picture due to the accidental cause of embarrassment.

          This isn’t a take the good with the bad article; there is good and bad everywhere. Should we stop talking about the good and stop talking about the bad; what then would we talk about?

          This article wasn’t about the warranted beatings which some of you keep harping on. It was about the times when it was totally unwarranted and some of you are pretending like it doesn’t happen. I wonder how your tune would change if you were sent to the hospital because you accidentally stepped on someone’s foot sending him into a face plant, and he cracked a bottle over your head in response as you were apologizing. Would you say, “take the good with the bad” then too. I know good people who have been in situations like this over nothing. What gets me more than anything is the expats who defend the Thai’s in these instances. You think you’re “connecting with them” or something, but you’re just being irrational.
          Bad things happen all over, but the excuse of face is mind numbing, and the expats who defend the misuses of the “Face Excuse” are asking for a karmic beat-down themselves.

          Peace be with you

  4. Dean October 20, 2012 at 10:22 am #

    Mate there is senseless violence all over the world!!

    I don’t see Thailand to be generally bad for violence.. Should go out in kings cross in Sydney on a weekend. Someone gets killed there every few weeks.. For usialy absolutly random acts of violence the other month a young guy got a totally senseless beating.. Some guy running around on drugs and just king hitting people.. If this article is only about the thai face and violence I really dot think much of the article.. Just being honest.. It’s nothing to with connecting with my ‘Thai side’ or what every BS u wanna say..

    I thought there some merit for a bit of discussion on the topic as a whole, but seems u only wanna be defensive and not have a proper conversation about the topic and the sub branches of the topic.. Seems a waist of my time or anyone’s time even having an opinion unless it matches yours!?

    • ParadiseCity October 20, 2012 at 10:44 am #

      You’re missing the point. The article was an indictment on the Thai’s who get violent out of slight embarrassment and especially on the Expats who defend and condone the behavior and accept the excuse of FACE.

      IT was not about violence in Thailand being a problem
      It was not about silly drunks disrespecting Thailand

      That’s it. IT’s a larger problem than you think, both the use of violence and the expats defending it.

      You’re going off on tangents bud; I don’t even disagree with what you’re saying, it’s just not on topic.

      One Love.

  5. Dean October 20, 2012 at 10:24 am #

    And I’m really not sure that I have heard of any expat or otherwise and especially not in these posts that say they condone violence from thai face not even in the slightest

    • ParadiseCity October 20, 2012 at 10:39 am #

      you didn’t see it because I trash the posts that do.

      • Dean October 20, 2012 at 10:48 am #

        Ok fair enough.. Because if you look at my first post.. I said it was shit..

        But I think it’s just a cop out. It’s someone who is violent by nature anyway.. The thai face I think is mainly used as an excuse to defend stupid behaviors..
        I really can’t imagine an old grandma lady bottling or bashing a young expat for losing face..(unless she was a violent person to begin with).. I think it really comes down to the individual person.. And how violent they are..

        I know a lot of thai people from Sydney..
        I caused one girl to lose face (we where like best friends for years) she pretty much set out to destroy my life after that.. calling the girl i was seeing at the time and telling her i cheeting etc. when i wasnt.. But she wasn’t violent (thank gawd)

        Ok I will agree that the thai face can get taken too far sometimes.. Just hope next time it isn’t by an individual that is a violent person 🙂

        • ParadiseCity October 20, 2012 at 10:55 am #

          Dean you’re a good poster and I agree with just about everything you’re saying. I actually don’t think Thailand is a dangerous place at all. More than anything I just get ticked off by people who want me to accept the token beatings as “perfectly acceptable due to the culture.” I think I have a problem mostly with the expats who take that side of things.

          Certainly anyone who gets into fights over nothing is acting like a 5 year old, and that is no more prevalent in Thailand than it is in our home countries. It’s just the excuse and the rationalizing that I take issue with. Hope you understand.

  6. Dean October 20, 2012 at 11:52 am #

    Here is a question..

    How do u think the reaction differs from losing face to an farang as opposed to another thai..

    That’s something I think could be an interesting discussion as well… And open another can of worms lol

    • SAM May 5, 2023 at 11:24 am #

      It often doesn’t and we make this big issue as westerners about face being this foreign concept that we dont have in the west. Piss off the wrong person on the road or outside of a bar in say, America, you are going to be liable to get the same violent reaction out them than you would a Thai. All these people claiming face is the be all end all and only a Thai/Asian cultural marker are clearly mistaken

  7. Fluke October 21, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

    People who aere concerned about”losing face” are people who dont have the intelligence to deal with the situation they are in , either that or they are insecure and sensitive .
    Reminds me of back home where gangstas kill each other for getting “dissed” .
    A few nights ago in the Luckybar, two Thai Females hit a Western Female other the head with a bottle because she trod on their toes , no doubt they felt offended because they got their toe trod on .
    “Losing face” is for unintelligent insecure people .

  8. Jai Dee October 22, 2012 at 4:23 am #

    Many interesting comments regarding “sia naa”(literally ,broken face).
    I think that many expats don’t entirely understand the concept .
    And many Thai’s DO (nowadays) use it as an excuse for aggressive behavior….sadly this is often due to the influence of “Yaa Baa”

    Losing face is a complex thing.
    A couple of months ago I was having a small BBQ at our house in the Muu Baan for a few Thai neighbors.I had a big bottle of falang vodka as well.
    “Lung” Thip ….a very lively 78 year old ,who I know for many years, was invited.
    After one drink,everyone had just arrived……and Lung Thip decided he was heading home and picked up the nearly full bottle of vodka to take with him.
    Everyone sitting there…including myself was shocked.Everyone thought he was joking at first.I quickly dashed into the house and got another smaller bottle which was already opened and almost empty and went to him and said”here Lung Thip…take this one…the other bottle is for the rest of the guests”. After he left the tongues starting wagging,
    Lung Thip had managed to lose a whole shit load of face…..all by himself…because he had tried to (on purpose or not…who knows?)make me lose face and instead I gained face because I handled the situation well…..Go figure….amazing Thailand….Cheers All

  9. Thaimlord December 31, 2012 at 9:38 pm #

    Hi ParadiseCity

    I’m with Dean on this. If you invite comment, and actually do desire communication in two directions, how about entertaining other peoples’ perspectives, rather than attacking them if they don’t match your own? Dean was only telling you his (entirely valid) viewpoint, and surprise surprise there are other ideas in the universe than just yours or mine.

    Your response is to keep insisting that people aren’t understanding what you’ve written. Perhaps then you weren’t particularly clear in your post? I think most of us can figure out what you’re saying about un-warranted violence here, but as he pointed out, that’s the way it is. That is what you get when you come to Thailand and you live in particular areas, and in the company of those sorts of people.

    I have inadvertently caused Thais to lose face here, and not just once, but no-one has been violent with me or with anyone I know. One of my Thai friends, or my GF will take me aside and explain what has happened and why, and I will go back, smile to put them at ease, and apologise, even if I don’t agree with it. Why? Because that’s the way it is here. On balance I love living here. Is there violence, yes, but if you are liked by the Thais your Thai friends will make sure very little violence comes your way as best they can. They guide and shield you from events that are likely to erupt in that way. Does it still happen on occasion, yes I guess so, like anywhere in the world.

    Neither you, nor I, nor probably ANY Farang totally understands the concept of “face” although we all have our ideas about it.

    Strangely enough although not being physically violent here, you are actually being what you have accused the these violent Thais of. Intolerance and the attitude that your opinion is correct and everyone else must be wrong if they don’t agree.

    Not a good attitude for a blogger mate, or not a good long-term one anyway. I was thinking of signing up to the premium forum when I came to the site today. You’ve just changed my mind.

    Happy New Year

    • Chris December 31, 2012 at 9:52 pm #

      You know this was written by ParadiseCity and not Chris right? But there’s no forum either, I get the impression you’ve read one article from the site. In any many Face is something I get and I tend to agree with PC. it’s BS.

      • Thaimlord January 20, 2013 at 12:34 am #

        Hi Chris

        Thanks, yes I saw that it was written by ParadiseCity. I’ve read many articles on the site, enjoyed most of them, agreedwith some and disagreed with others, but that’s just natural. I’m not sure I understand your comment about there not being a forum.

        What I was trying to make clear, is that unlike the “About the Author” blurb under his post, nobody, not me, not you, and certainly not him; NOBODY knows “all things Thailand”, nor has “seen and done it all”. The same “I know everything” attitude he displayed when Dean and others dared to voice contrasting opinions, showed me he didn’t even understand WESTERN culture, let alone Thai culture. A bad ambassador for your website and business here in Thailand in my opinion Chris.

        If you want your site to become another thaivisa, this is a good way to achieve that. Over time you’ll scare off all of the well-meaning folk, and leave just the whinging types who can’t understand why the Thais aren’t more like themselves.

        When you frequent the tourist nightlife areas a lot, and/or maintain certain less-than-charitable attitudes, you will often run into bad company, in Thailand or anywhere. In bad company “face” or anything else is a fine excuse to make a problem for you.

        In contrast if you seek out good company, and if you’re a respectful, nice and decent person yourself, you’ll find the vast majority of Thai people are exactly the same as you.

        As I mentioned in my post, I’ve managed to commit some embarrassing faux pas myself, with respect to “face”, and it was always handled with respect, humility and decency, on both sides, and culminated in a better understanding of each other, and no hard feelings.

        Anyway, I can see that my opinion is shared neither by the author nor yourself, so I do appreciate you allowing me air it, and add some balance to the original post.


        • Chris January 21, 2013 at 4:07 am #

          everyone is allowed a voice here as long as you don’t destroy the other commentors. i’m glad people don’t all think the same but the last thing i want is to become another Thai Visa. thanks again for your comment.

  10. Max Maxis January 8, 2014 at 3:37 pm #

    I’m a white expat from Ukraine living in the Philippines and i can’t stand whites (Americans, Australians, Dutch, Germans, Russians etc etc) coming to the Philippines and acting like douche bags! I see many times white loosers (usually in their early 20s) like to do that! Coming from their country feeling WHITE and HANDSOME, even if they are not! Simply because they feel more powerful in the Asian country, thinking they are more privileged to act like an ass and thinking better looking than any of the Asians…

  11. Derek May 9, 2014 at 8:32 am #

    The Thai thing about saving face is a contradiction of Thai Buddhist culture, whatever happened to detaching one´s self from ego?

  12. Marco February 18, 2016 at 6:52 pm #

    Dont understand people who are afended about “loosing their face” etc.
    But same time insult you , telling you that you look like animal (monkey, buffallo, bear, pig). Telling you to fuck off to “your country”. Lie to you that there is no bus , train etc. only becouse they want you to give them your money for transportation.
    Laughing at you.
    Screaming , rise voice at you , rise middel finger towards you…
    All openly in the public, on the street.

    I dont understand ppl who want to be respected but they dont respect you at all.

  13. Marco February 18, 2016 at 6:55 pm #

    Im not english so my english isnt good. Still I think it is understandible.
    Greetings to all tolerant ppl with good will.

  14. ThaiClowns June 30, 2016 at 2:38 am #

    Disgraceful attitude from Thais, worse from white-trash Brits, Australians, Kiwis and similar clowns. Going to Thailand has become a real joke, one that will make you vomit, not laugh.
    Lose face? You just want to break it!

  15. Paul February 16, 2018 at 12:13 pm #

    I can appreciate being polite, but often Saving Face is used to avoid the responsibility of acknowledging the negative we have done and how it effects our relationship(s). Yes, politeness in the present moment is important, but reality has a way of showing itself in the long term. The natural consequences of being too concerned with politeness in the present is very real damage in every day life. No culture can prevent reality from showing itself. So, aside from providing the basic level of politeness in society, we might want to think about how much politeness we are willing to accept from our closer relationships.

  16. Steve July 25, 2021 at 7:19 pm #

    I have regular run ins with my Thai wife over this… we are surrounded by various Thai neighbours, all of them country bumpkin ratbags, who seem to think that deciding to start that addition to their house at 11pm is just dandy, out come the hammers, metal saws and what ever for as long as they feel like it. Or the other mob, who have had virtually non stop construction for the past three years, again all hours of the day and night, the builds a lean to and invites all their mates for endless loud music and drinking.
    It never stops…
    I got fed with this clown banging on stuff starting around 10pm, after three days then went and asked him what he was doing at this hour.. he mumbled something and just kept banging.. when I got back in the house, the bride unloaded on me, “you cannot do that” .. “you make him lose face so much” .. “ he can come and attack you” … etc.. her solution was close the windows and put on the air con.. Sam’s with the jerks behind me with music and drinking all hours.. “ close the door and put in the air con..”
    She said I needed to accept what other people did, needed to be “kren jai” … It’s just a excuse for people to be the biggest A holes and jerks because they can..
    I know lots of Thais who are very thoughtful and kind, but so many just don’t care, they can drive any way they want, act any way they feel like, and if it comes back at them, they just pull out that phrase “ he made me lose face”… cut a guy off in traffic or pull ahead of him, he can come at you and beat you it your car because of it, “make hand” and apparently people have been killed for it.. that means wave dismissively or give him the finger means he can assault you and the cops will accept it, my wife has smacked me a few times for waving in exasperation at some stunt Somchai pulls off that just about ran us over..
    The problem with losing face is that it’s a one way street.. people can be selfish and arrogant dicks just because they can get away with it because the guy laying in the road that you cut off and put in hospital wasn’t “kren jai” … gimme a break


  1. Always Count Your Money, Part 2: The Scam Artists · Nathan T Warne - September 19, 2013

    […] turned awkwardly away, because he lost face, which is a big no no in the Asian Cultures of Shame, or so I’ve heard, but I didn’t care. I stomped away and sat at a coffee shop where at least they had prices […]

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