Sunday 6 January 2008

Patriarchal Thailand...

Last night was another New Years family shindig..this time it was the mother-in-law's fam consisting of her 6 sisters and one brother, aunts, uncles, cousins galore. Big ass families in Thailand... it was pretty amusing to be a spectator at this party due to every single person (except the marry-ins) looking exactly the same. The facial bone structure, eyes, mouth and eyebrows were almost identical on 30 people!

It's a pretty established fact that Thailand is a patriarchal country and never has it been so apparent to me in the entire time I've lived here, then last night. Oft is the time I see women give way to men... the oldest men get served food first, then remaining men (even in my house I serve the rice as I'm the youngest woman and always serve father first, husband second, mother third and myself last.. although serving mother second is not frowned upon.. tricky unspoken rules of Thai etiquette!). The fact that it's a patriarchal society doesn't usually impact me greatly as my husband is all for equal rights blah blah blah but I was staring in open mouthed astonishment last night as an observer of aliens having landed or spotting giraffes on safari might.

Everyone rocks up to the party in a long convoy of cars as most of us live within 3 kms of each other. The men automatically go to sit outside at the tables, beer and whiskey is a flowing and the women either sit inside or go to the kitchen to help preparations. At NO time do the women and men sit together. Now, I'm not new to this concept..I've been to a gazillion Thai parties and it's always this way - men and women generally just don't socialise together. I am always a rarity because I'll either sit with my husband with the men and be the only woman or he will sit with the women and be the only man. It would be absurd but this is old school culture at its best. So as the men are boozing it up all the women set about bringing bowls of every Thai food imaginable to place on the men's tables. When they finish bringing about a thousand curries and fish etc out they start to lay the food on the mat on the floor inside the house (for the women folk). But then when the food is all placed and ready to go we all just sit around watching the men eat! Like for.eva man. J kept on waving me over to come and sit with him to eat but I wanted to eat with the chicas and observe this social behaviour (scientist in me coming out!).

So, us ladies sat for about 25 minutes watching the men gorge themselves and living it up and finally J, obviously riddled with guilt watching his starving wife looking lustfully at our food sitting all neglected on the floor, came over and asked why I wasn't eating. This was met by 3 women telling me to "yes, eat, eat now". I said in quite a loud voice "I'll eat when everyone else eats", followed by "oh no, you must eat now", followed by my not so naive question "Why aren't the women eating?", answered by averting eyes and little giggles! I did it more for amusement sake but truly I was also baffled because it was literally half an hour since the men began the feast. AND didn't that just spur people into action! The farang wouldn't eat until everyone else ate, so all of a sudden all the women came and sat down to the lovely feast on the floor (did I mention the men had tables?). I don't really think it was due to the farang not eating.. I think all the women were starvin marvin but no one wanted to start the ball rolling (disrespectful to the almighty men??)! Who knows...was a sumptuous feast though!

After din there was a lucky dip draw to distribute presents (wrapped in Christmas paper!). It's too cute, like they're 2 weeks behind the rest of the world. We scored a nice sarong and a plush bath towel. J's mother gave me the sarong and less then a minute later said to me "oh, better if I keep it" and took it promptly off me! Not even a raised eyebrow in my camp I tell you. New Year, new thoughts... I am a being of light and positivity!! ha.ha.ha.

5 commentaramas:

Jenny Beattie said...

Blimey, Mel. Hands up to you girl.
PS Sorry haven't yet answered email - will do shortly.

Anonymous said...

this is nuts!!! i love reading your the way did you really think they were waiting for a man to give them permission to start or for them to finish eating so they could start??? Another Q were the presents for "christmas" or for some other custom around New Years??


Carol said...

This post had me laughing out loud (So much so that Moon came through to see what I was laughing at....she's now shaking her head in despair!!).

I can't believe you were supposed to sit and wait till the men had finished!!

*still giggling*

C x

TracyMcGal said...

My gradmother was the same way. She was southern to the core. She cooked all day and everyone ate but her. Most of the time she didn't even set a place for herself. She loved it though. Thank goodness my dad (her son) didn't want my mom to do that.

My girlfriend's dad shakes his tea glass when he wants a refill. He'd be shakin for forever at my house.

God bless ya, Mel.

Mel said...

jj- not to worry, you've a lot on your plate at the moment!

Hirally - completely nuts! I don't think it's a permission thing. More like unspoken cultural norms of serving the men first..but really I've never seen it this extreme! The pressies were new years gifts nothing to do with Chrissy :-D

C - did Moon say it was normal! I don't think it's totally normal to wait so incredibly long.

Tracy - your poor grandmother! Luckily times have changed in most places (but not Thailand obviously).