Thai Proverbs East Meets West

Wikipedi is a free, multilingual, open content encyclopedia project operated by the United States-based non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. To me, Wikipedia is an invaluable source of information and ideas. A bloggers dream. When work has dulled my imagination and my mind is running down an endless barren path, Wikipedia is my saviour. Thai proverbs was the latest diamond I found.

I am not an ex pat but I have spent over two years of my life in Thailand, albeit in broken spells. Of that time much has been in Thai villages and so I feel I can offer some insight into the everyday ways and life of Thai country folk. Thai proverbs and the farang, when east meets west, do they fit hand in hand.

Thailandเข้าเมืองตาหลิ่ว ต้องหลิ่วตาตาม

Transliteration: Khao mueng tar-lew, tong lew-tar tarm

Literal: When in the city of the slanted-eyed, do squint your eyes.


Village life is made a whole lot easier by blending into the background rather than standing out like the proverbial sore thumb. Taking even a small role among the community is far better received than standing alone and being looked upon as aloof and cast apart from the villagers. You don’t have to go to every wedding and village fete, but the occasional visit will be well received.

Meaning: Follow the majority, if you are minority; adapt to situations and people around you.

English version: When in Rome, do as the Romans do.


Transliteration: Kwar thua ja suek, nga kor mai.

Literal: Before the nut is cooked, a sesame is burnt.

The family member who borrows the motorbike once a week, soon it becomes everyday. The only time the motorbike is there is when it’s out of fuel. The uncle who goes to your fridge and takes a beer without asking, or the one who takes a cigarette every time you prepare his wife a drink. I know Wonderful Wi has had problems in the past with family members borrowing small amounts of money and not paying it back. These little incidents, no matter how trivial they may seem, need to be dealt with before they snowball out of control.

Meaning: Don’t let issues hang for too long until they’re all burnt.


Transliteration: Kum khee dee kwa kum tod

Literal: Grabbing excrement is better than grabbing flatulence.

There is a beautiful five bedroom house in our village, it was paid for by a European gentleman for his Thai girlfriend and her child. I’ve never seen him and Wilai says he has not been around for many years. After the house was built, and his money depleted, he returned home to work in his own country. Apparently things didn’t go as he had planned and a lack of funds meant he was unable to return to Thailand and the couple are now believed to be separated. Two people and one small child, surely a smaller home may have not broken them apart. Which begs the question, Is it necessary to build a bridge over a small stream?

Meaning: Having something is better than having nothing.


Transliteration: gin nam phrik thuay diaao

Literal: Eat the spicy chili sauce only from one cup.

Being faithful to your Thai partner is paramount to your well being in any Thai village. Faithfulness should be a strength within any relationship, and especially so in a Thai community. To lose the trust of your wife or partner can easily lead to a distance widening between you and her family. Mistrust and anger are often the shove that sends many westerners spiralling down a steep and slippery slope.

Meaning: Always be faithful to your wife.


Transliteration: Jub sua mue paol

Literal: Catch a tiger with bare hands.

Dealing with law, legislation and the inevitable red tape is an unenviable task unless you are equipped with the best tools. Your partner is your best tool, so use her. When dealing with important financial decisions and personal issues, if your Thai language skills are not up to much you can easily miss the smallest detail and that can lead to a lot of problems. Seek the advice of your partner, her family, and friends, whenever you are unsure of the really important affairs. You may know it all in your own country, but on foreign soil and with an alien tongue, only a fool would try and catch a tiger with his bare hands.

Meaning:  Being ill-equipped in tasks that require preparation.


Photograph Painted Umbrellas © Eirene |


I'm a sixty-year-old Englishman living in the town of Swindon in rural Wiltshire and I have a real deep desire to retire in Thailand one day. If you don't have a dream then you won't have a dream come true.

10 Responses

  1. Talen says:

    Lots of great advice there. I would add let the family and village know off the bat that you aren’t rich…even if you are. I don’t mind buying meals here and there and doing little things but if they think you are a soft touch you’re in for it.

    My first trip to the village one particular auntie thought it might be a good idea if I bought a truck for the family. Good thing for me there were no toy stores around because I don’t think a Tonka truck would have gone over too well.

    Talen’s last blog post..Kai Pad Med Mamuang Himaphan ( Cashew Chicken )

  2. Mike says:

    Martyn nice idea and some sound advice. I agree with Talen about the rich thing.

    Despite my better judgment I have on occasions helped family members albeit that they live 300 clicks away.

    However sometimes I put my foot down. e.g. recently on my return from the UK I got a request via MTF for her to take our truck North to Somat Sakhon to move a family member even further north (+330Km).

    That said I happily sent 500 baht to MTF’s sister when see phoned MTF saying she had no food.

    I also “use” MTF when dealing with officials but this can backfire as Thai women will back down quite quickly if they perceive they are out of their social class.

    Mike’s last blog post..Swinging Bangkok.

  3. Malcolm says:

    Martyn, Lots of good stuff and great advice concerning , life and living ,and surviveing in the LOS, in this post.It is hard for a long winded ole fart like me to simply just say “good job Martyn”, but there I did it, You have covered a lot of subjects in this one post and enough topics to stir my mind and give me a whirlwind of ideas for future post ,thanks. And who needs WIKIPEDIA , when we have MARTYN,MARTIN, and MIKE .


  4. Malcolm says:

    My mind went into hipper mode , and I can’t turn it off. I just have to get this out.
    When we were in our own (by we ,I of course mean expats and transplants to the LOS)countries we, spent all (well maybe not all, but a lot,)of our time and energy and YES MONEY trying to keep up with the JONES, So sad that when we move to the LOS , we try to be the JONES. Malcolm

  5. *lynne* says:

    These are some interesting sayings! Do feature more of them from time to time, as I do think these sayings provide a glimpse into the psyche of a nation. I’ve done a few comparisons of English/Malay/French sayings too – it was a lot of fun 🙂

    *lynne*’s last blog post..Trip preparations: window vs aisle?

  6. martin in bulgaria says:

    Hi Martyn,

    If only people would take the advice given…

    No chance, so many people just do and don’t listen to word of wisdom – stupidity is good news for wisdom writers of course.

    Love the examples you picked, so, so true wherever you are from.

    martin in bulgaria’s last blog post..Jogging ands Cycling in Towns and Villages Respectively

  7. Hoo Don says:

    Talen – I think the reason I didn’t use the money angle is because I haven’t got a lot of it, good point though. No matter what you tell them they still think you are rich. I’ve even tried explaining that if they went to some parts of Africa they’d be looked upon as rich, they can’t grasp that one.

    Mike – I think most people have the “help the family” problem but as you explain, you deal with each case on its merit.I didn’t realize about women and social class, reading your words I can now see the problem with this.

    Malcolm – There was a Thai proverb about keeping up with the Joneses on another of the links I looked at, almost used it. I have always found a lot of the Thai ladies with farang partners are despite their relaxed charm, very much driven by this proverb.I look forward to reading your related posts.

    Lynne – I do intend doing a further post on this theme at some point, I found it very interesting.The psyche of a nation, they have out psyched me with this one I read “nobody lifts a dogs tail when it defecates – self praise is not recommended” anybody help me on that one.

    Martin – Hello Martin there were many more examples on various links and I could still be writing the post now. I thought some of them were great in the fact that they used so many of the natural tools about – chilli, tiger, sesame etc. but also a little surprised with the coarseness of others.

  8. Robert says:

    the most beautiful in the east is a hookah) I love to smoke hookah. And the most beautiful in the west-cowboys. That’s my opinion.
    Good luck!
    IT outsourcing

  9. Hoo Don says:

    Robert I’m not sure what hookah is, hooker I do know. Do cowboys smoke hookak, I know in their wild days they used to like the ones I mentioned.

  10. we vibe says:

    thanks for all the excellent advice here. being part of the culture is most definietely important. not necessarily being overt and trying to blend in, but making subtle efforts. What is hookak?

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