This is the obligatory Thailand post about smiles. Anyone who writes about Thailand has to write this piece sooner or later, or the Kingdom revokes his/her creative license.
So okay, why is Thailand called the Land of Smiles? Look left. The smile is the Kindom's default expression. It reflects the basic sunniness in the Thai disposition, but more to the point, perhaps, it's an individual contribution to consensus, which is what Thais see as the basis of their country's harmony.
This is perhaps especially true of Americans, who come from a country in which smiles (at least, in the cities) are apparently rationed -- upon returning to it from Thailand, I sometimes think oft the U.S.as the Land of Snarls. On the third or fourth day of my first visit here -- a visit that turned into part of each year for the rest of my life -- I became conscious that my cheeks ached because I'd been returning so many smiles. (I gave that experience to a Korean character in The Queen of Patpong.)
Do the smiles mean that Thais are happy all the time? Of course not. They encounter disappointment, bereavement, and heartbreak the same as we do. Thai society is full of injustice and inequality. The Thais, however, have come to a collective conclusion that it's better to go through life with Buddhist equanimity, natural good cheer, and a certain amount of grace. One of the first things a farang learns is never to show anger in an argument -- the moment you do, you've lost. You're probably going to lose anyway, but if you keep a smile and a cool heart, you won't also look like a jerk.
Am I suggesting that Thais never go postal? No, I'm not, but they don't do it very often. In a world where courtesy and cheerfulness matter, where curmudgeons are pitied rather than scorned, there's just not quite as much to go postal about as there is . . . well, elsewhere.
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