The Thai Attitude to Life

Thai workers. Don’t seem lazy to me. What’s your view?

Some commentators hold the view that the typical Thai is lazy. Although at first glance that may appear to be so, watch men and women working an eight hour shift in the hot sun on a construction site. I think readers will then be convinced Thais are not lazy.

Observe how the rice farmers, bent double in the fields, move along the rows of planted rice skillfully plucking the plants and laying them in their baskets. They appear to be working slowly but they are pacing themselves. Toiling at speed may look impressive yet careful and methodical harvesting of the crop gets the job done more quickly in the long run.

They sing and laugh while they work, stopping only occasionally for a drink of cold water when they are thirsty. If, when they break for lunch, you have a chat with them and get a little closer to understanding how they treat the concept of work, you may see that essentially they regard work as something that has to be enjoyable and sanuk. A sensible life-work balance is important to all Thais. They will leave a job if they are not happy. The wages they are paid are not the main consideration. Working contentedly in a group is.

Thais working in the Rice Paddies
Thais working in the Rice Fields. Back-breaking work in hot sun

Their outlook is linked more to mai pen rai than laziness. They deliberately choose a lay-back lifestyle that is not too serious, calculating what is essential and what is not, what has to be done and what can be left undone. And, as we saw when Goong was confronted by police for not wearing a safety helmet, Thais truly value the freedom to do as they want (12 September. Thailand Diary).

In the 1970s, Lord Robens, while Chairman of the UK’s National Coal Board, asked a miner why he frequently only worked four days a week when the normal working week was five days.

“Because I can’t make ends meet if I work only three days.”

The miner was thinking, as a Thai would, of his work-life balance; Robens had the worldview and work ethic that it was good for the economy and the coal industry for workers to attend every working day.

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