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Foreign husbands bring big changes to Isaan
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  1. #1
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    Foreign husbands bring big changes to Isaan

    CROSS-CULTURAL MARRIAGES
    The Nation, 17th November 2006
    Foreign husbands bring big changes to Isaan

    Somtam is out and hamburgers are in as more Northeast women adopt husbands' customs, according to a survey of the cultural impact of increasing Thai-Westerner marriages

    Many Thai women in the Northeast who have married foreigners are now keener on eating pizzas and hamburgers than somtam and prefer celebrating Western holidays like Christmas and Valentine's Day to traditional Thai holidays, a Khon Kaen University study has found.

    Cross-cultural marriages have caused major social changes in the Northeast, including less family participation in community activities, the study - released yesterday - said.

    A mix of various aspects of the two cultures was on the rise, the study found. It cited the example of many Thai wives now being keener on eating Western food and almost forgetting somtam - the region's popular papaya salad dish.

    The head of the study, Asst Prof Supawatanakorn Wongtha-nawasu of the university's Faculty of Nursing, said her team interviewed 231 Thai wives in Khon Kaen, Udon Thani and Roi Et and found that foreign son-in-laws had caused the community-oriented Northeasterners to become the more individualistic and give less attention to social interaction.

    Cross-cultural couples had less interaction with neighbours because foreign husbands faced language and cultural obstacles, while the wives tried to adjust by becoming "farang" rather than helping their husbands to be more 'Thai', Supawatanakorn said.

    Thai culture in these families was thus overshadowed by Western culture, with the families' own consent, due to the pride of having foreign sons-in-law, she said.

    The researchers also found most wives interviewed were either not interested or less enthusiastic about traditional Thai holidays - such as Buddhist Lent and Makha Bucha Day - compared with Western holidays like Christmas Day or Valentine's Day.

    "In some Khon Kaen villages, with dozens of women marrying farangs, Christmas Day is no different from the movies with real traditional Christmas celebrations, while many Northeastern festivals were forgotten," the academic said.

    On the other hand, many foreign husbands enjoyed celebrating the Songkran festival but did not understand the tradition and meaning behind it, she said.

    The wives still ate somtam, which they grew up eating, but also ate pizza, hamburgers or fried chicken as a symbol of their adjustment to Western culture.

    Many ended up eating both local and Western dishes, while their husbands found it harder to adjust to local food and stuck more to Western food.

    Supawatanakorn said that since the wives found it more convenient to cook once for all family members including their husbands, Northeastern food - especially somtam with fermented fish - had gradually disappeared from their meals, she said.

    The study found that most Northeastern Thai women married to foreigners were over 30, with an average age of 35, and had education below secondary level. More than 70 per cent had previously wed and divorced Thai husbands and most had one child from the first marriage.

    Supawatanakorn said most wives saw their cross-cultural marriage as turning over a new leaf.

    The average age of farang husbands was 50, and most came from Germany, Britain and Scandinavia. A fourth of those over 60 had brought their retirement funds to settle down with Thai wives who took care of them, Supawatanakorn said.

    The foreign husbands had an average income of Bt60,000 a month, but most of their wives didn't know their husband's work or educational background. The wives were mainly interested in whether their husbands had enough money to support the family, she said.

    The study also found that Isaan families whose members had married foreigners had changed their views on choosing spouses. From the traditional practice of parents choosing spouses for their children, the decision is now made by the individual and is based mainly on economic security. Some women agreed to marry foreigners they had never met before the wedding day as they felt that if the man had money, the villagers would eventually accept and respect them.

    With the obvious increase in wealth of wives married to farang, due to their husbands' financial support, some 90 per cent of residents surveyed said they wanted their daughters to marry foreigners, Supawatanakorn said.

    Some girls told the researchers they were prepared to fly overseas to marry a foreigner when they grew up.

    Cross-cultural marriages were also supported by the older generation as these couples took care of their own children instead of placing the burden on the grandparents, or could afford nannies.

    However, the cross-cultural marriage weakened the children's language skills as parents spoke to them in a mix of Thai and English, which confused the kids and made them less fluent in the Thai language, she said.

    The children's English skills were limited to basic daily communication due to the parents' limited educational background or a less stimulating social environment.

    In areas with many farang residents there was the phenomenon of shops putting up signs for their goods in Thai and English and of English being spoken between vendors and husbands, Supawatanakorn said.

    Sumalee Phopayak

    The Nation

    KHON KAEN

  2. #2
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    Re: Foreign husbands bring big changes to Isaan

    Seems alright to me, But it seems to be happening all over Thailand, not just the NE.

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    Re: Foreign husbands bring big changes to Isaan

    However, the cross-cultural marriage weakened the children's language skills as parents spoke to them in a mix of Thai and English, which confused the kids and made them less fluent in the Thai language, she said.
    I want to see the data on this one. It would be one thing if the children lived abroad, but if they are still living in Thailand I doubt their Thai language skills are suffering any. It goes against most established scientific literature on multi-lingual children. I wonder if Swiss children are confused when they are spoken to in French, German, and Italian? I personally think the persons conducting this "research" mixed stereotypes and biases with "data" in their study.
    Life is learning. If you stop learning, you might as well be dead.

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    Re: Foreign husbands bring big changes to Isaan

    There are a couple of students at my school who have foreign fathers. What I don't understand is why don't they have fluency in English language? Their Thai seems OK. But they can hardly speak English. The only student I have met who had difficulty with Thai was one that had gone to America when she was two years old and came back when she was about 6. She apparently had difficulty with Thai. However, by the time I came to teach her when she was 12, it was now the opposite. She had forgotten most of her English and was now fluent in Thai. A shame.

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    Re: Foreign husbands bring big changes to Isaan

    Richard, my school is a bilingual one, so it is the right choice for many kids from mixed families. at the moment, we have about 15 farang-Thai kids in kindergarten. several only speak Thai at home, the parents made this choice to consolidate the children's Thai in the first place. (the fathers speak nearly perfect Thai according to my colleagues.) there is one who only speaks English, his Thai mom thought he would pick up Thai later anyway. there is a boy who is fully bilingual and has amazing English and Thai, the best in his group in both languages I am told. there are lots who are exposed to Thai, English and another language (Turkish, Swedish, Japanese, Chinese), they normally have their personal preferences and ignore one of the languages (we haven't been able to connect this to the pattern of language use around them). it is NOT the kids with foreign fathers who speak the best English! I suspect men spend very little time with their children, especially compared to the exposure to Thai from mothers, maids, tv, friends at school, resulting in limited skills.

    as for the research data in the article.... well, they don't really seem solid, or it just doesn't come across. I doubt mixed use of languages. it only happens if parents do not speak their own respective languages to the child consistently but they mix the two themselves. if languages are clearly separated (by speakers or situations), children will learn to treat them separately as well. obviuosly, if the communication between parents is a mixture of broken Thai and English, if a very limited range of vocabulary and expressions is all that children hear, if the English-speaking husband starts to cut down on English structures and simplifies his way of speaking to the extreme so that the Thai partner understands (and kids are there to keep open ears), or if the Thai mother with very bad English speaks too much English to the children, that's what they will end up with. kids can only learn what they hear. but mixing languages or very limited proficiency should not be a direct consequence of a mixed family.

    I guess exposure to phasa Isaan AND Thai besides English could also be a factor here. in my group, we also have two kids who speak khammuang with their parents, and their Thai skills are weaker as a result. two languages are manageable, as for Thai - Isaan bilinguals, but three are often too much to handle for many. not for all though.

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    Re: Foreign husbands bring big changes to Isaan

    When I had my almost 6 year old daughter here she picked up quite a bit of Thai from her playmates, and she spoke perfect Mexican and English.
    My wife daughter is close to 17 and was 11 when she first got around me and I have been trying from day one to teach her English, I only speak English and her mother teaches English in her school but will not speak it to the kid at home and she can speak it but with such a Thai accent that she just as well be speaking Thai, I had a kid last year in an English class who had an American step dad and he spoke quite good English and wanted to learn more.
    But I am with VC, I can't see where learning English will have anything to do with their proficiency in Thai.
    But I do know a lot of Thai that can read English and understand what they read but can't understand spoken words and can not speak it, probably because like my kid, they haven't learned to speak it and will not because you couldn't understand them anyway.

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    Re: Foreign husbands bring big changes to Isaan

    I think that opening up them to both Thai and another language (in my brother's case English) is a good thing. The kids, hopefully, will grow up to learn both languages. The dual language situation is only beneficial for the children when they grow up. I know that my brother, who is nearly 2 years old, is progression quite well for someone his age in both languages.

    Also, what ever happened to the expression "when in Rome do what the Romans do" (or something along those lines). I think that living in a foreign part of a country which is still rural, one should not change the local customs. I almost consider it a privaledge to be there but I might sound conservative and say that local customs must be kept in place without intervention. I just shudder to think that McD's, KFC, etc will spread to rural areas to contaminate the younger generation. That is the last thing a place like Thailand, which I think has good eating habits, needs! How is it that I can get accustomed to local food within the span of a couple of months - spicy food and all and those that are there for years cannot? I know I might be significantly younger, but still....I think Thailand has a unique culture and that many people acutally enjoy that and is partially the reason being why they live there - if you change it to what you know as "normal" back home then you ruin the culture!

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    Re: Foreign husbands bring big changes to Isaan

    I think Thailand has a unique culture and that many people acutally enjoy that and is partially the reason being why they live there - if you change it to what you know as "normal" back home then you ruin the culture!
    Well said!

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    Re: Foreign husbands bring big changes to Isaan

    Pailin - Thanks. What I am actually trying to say is that if I am 18 years old and I realise that things are going to change for the worse in places such as this, then what is going to happen by the time I am older?

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    Re: Foreign husbands bring big changes to Isaan

    I can't really see how a choice in food is going to cange one's culture.
    My Wife has been living in a western country for 16 yrs & she still eats
    mainly Thai food, rarely eating junk food.
    Regarding the kids of mixed relationships, obviously it is very important for them to be fluent in their native tounge. But surely everyone would understand how important and how advantageous it will be for them to be fluent in another language. Just that alone will open up so many doors and prospects for their future.
    Not to forget how it will help them understand the culture of their parents partner.. kow jai ?

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