The Allure of the Smile

October 1, 2012

The majority of Expats coming to retire to Thailand are of the male variety; usually the older male variety. (Though lately more and more couples and single women are choosing to retire here. More on them below.)

We’ve seen them. The older Expat male and the younger, sometimes lots younger, Thai female. I have had friends of both persuasions. Although the couples look a bit strange together to the outsider, and in the west would be looked at with some scorn, I myself have no problem with these relationships (BTW, my wife is 2 years younger than I, and I am older than dirt). In relationships each person has certain needs and if the relationship fulfills these needs on both sides then I say, “Go for it.”

For many Expat men the need is companionship, an escape from loneliness, and someone to take care of them when they get older, not to mention a live translator to help them get around the language. The girls often need someone to financially care for them and frequently their families (and occasionally a sick buffalo), and maybe a way out of back-country village life.

Oh! I forgot the sex part (remember I told you I was older than dirt). On the guy’s side it’s like. “Wow! This babe is interested in ME? Better check out the pharmacy for the little blue pills.” and on the girl’s side it’s more like, “For what I’m getting I can put up with it.” (I’m not making this up because these are basically quotes from people I know.)

How do these hookups happen you might wonder? Here is an example from a couple I met a long while back.

A guy who was on vacation from a job in Saudi Arabia came into my office one day and says that he needed some advice. “Okay.” I said “What’s up?” he said that he had met a girl. I later learned that he met the girl when he bought her out of a bar and asked her to go traveling with him for a week while he was on vacation. And now he was in love. “Ahhh” says I, “Does she speak any English?” “Not a word.” he says. “I expect that you don’t speak Thai.” I said. “Right.” He answered. “But I really love her and I want her to marry me. We’ll get around the language thing later.”

I’d seen this before so I asked if I might speak with the girl in question and I could act as her translator for him. That was good with him.  Here is how the actual conversation went with the girl.

“You know that he is in love with you and wants to marry you, right?”

“Oh yes. I could understand that.”


“What do you think about that?”

“I think he is crazy. How could you fall in love so quickly?”


“What are you going to do?”

“Of course I’ll marry him. I got nothing, except 2 kids. He’s got money. If he is crazy enough to marry me then that is fine with me.”


“Do you mind if I tell him what you just said.”

“Sure, he should know how I feel.”


So I told the vacationer exactly what she told me. His response, “Great!’

I met them two years later, married and with a baby daughter. And both appeared contented with the relationship. And that “language thing” was coming along.

Often it is a misinterpreted smile that starts off a relationship. Sometimes they work out, often they end up badly. Here is how that goes. I’ll give the outward dialog and, as in the Woody Allen movie Anne Hall, I’ll give the subtitles about what they really mean.

Girl, usually working in some service capacity is helping out an Expat customer.

Expat, recently arrived in country.


Girl:   (smiling as all Thai are wont to do) “How can I help you”

It’s my job to smile.


Expat: “I’ll have a coffee.”

Wow! She must like me. No girl back home smiles like that unless she is

interested – especially no one has ever smiled at me like that.


Expat: “You are quite pretty.”

Let’s see where this goes.


Girl:   “No I’m not, he he he” (giggling)

He thinks I am pretty. Let’s see where this goes. I bet he’s rich. He is old

enough to have accumulated a lot of money.


And so the story begins.

Not all relationships are of the above type. Of course some are be based on mutual affection and respect, sometimes even love. Sadly, there is an inverse correlation between these latter types of relationships and the differences in age, education level, and/or economic status of the individuals involved.

I have seen so many of these relationships end up badly, but I must confess, a few end up really well, with both partners quite satisfied. The difference between being successful and not has all to do with expectations and how they are being met and with each person’s honesty, with their partners and with themselves.

So if you are in one of these relationships, or about to get into one, the more honest you are and the more you understand each person’s motivations, the more chance of success you will have. I wish you lots of luck.


A while ago I ran into a group of Expat women living in Thailand, some with their Expat partners, and they had a whole different set of experiences. I wrote about them in an article that I reprinted in my eBook Retired Life in Thailand.

Enter With Caution – Keeping Your Relationship Healthy

I was at a gathering the other day where a number of Expat women were talking about how their marriages had become stressed and then disintegrated once they came to Thailand. I wondered if this was a common phenomenon here. To find out how widespread this problem was I went onto an expat forum on the Internet and asked if other couples had experienced similar problems with their relationships in Thailand. I got lots of responses. Here are a few.

“We moved to Thailand to live out our golden years. My husband temporarily rediscovered his long lost libido and left me for a smiling young Thai girl. Farang men should know that Thais smile at everyone, even balding, gap toothed, Viagra dependent, old farts with dried out wrinkled skin, enormous beer bellies and man breasts, like my husband. But my story is not completely sad. He built his new-model wife a really expensive house after which she promptly kicked him out. I’m happier now living alone but feel rather sorry for the old man.”

“My marriage fell apart because my wife began to have paranoid assumptions that I was sleeping with every single Thai girl that smiled at me. She rather unconstructively turned to vodka to deal with these feelings. She has now returned to the UK and hates ‘everything Thai’, not thinking that maybe there were other problems in the marriage.”

“I was married almost 40 years and came to Thailand to teach school. But my husband was retired and had no full time work. He got bored, he said, and returned home leaving me here. For the main breadwinner, man or woman, life doesn’t change very much. You get up, go to work, come home. If the other half doesn’t keep busy, that’s a recipe for trouble.”

“My marriage wasn’t the strongest in the world and when my company had me constantly travelling, our marriage finally broke down. It was only co-incidental that later I developed a relationship with a Thai girl here. We got married and now have a 3 1/2 year old son.”

“A couple I know came to Thailand for a month’s holiday. The husband couldn’t keep his eyes off the beautiful Thai girls. As the husband was out to clubs ‘on his own’ the wife met a young Thai man who was very attentive and courteous. When the husband got ready to head back home he wondered why the wife wasn’t packing. The husband returned alone. The neglected wife never left. Recently, she and the attentive young Thai man celebrated their 16th anniversary.”

“I have a good friend who is general manager for a major international relocating firm. He estimates that at least 50% of those couples he moves here end up going home separately.”

So should moving to Thailand come with a warning label? Maybe a warning does need to be issued, or maybe the percentages of broken relationships are simply no higher here than they would be back home. In any case, it is probably true that if your marriage is under pressure, and which marriage isn’t, the stress of living in a foreign country could be the straw that breaks its back. Jealousy, roving eyes, excessive leisure time, lots of alcohol, and the illusion that a smile means “I want you”, certainly can add to the stress. For various reasons, Thailand may have a worse track record than other places. Please enter with caution.

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