One of the key concepts in Thai culture is kreng jai.
The phrase is best translated as being considerate or courteous, but
examining its literal meaning – “awe of the heart” – can give some
important insights into Thai culture.
Someone who is kreng jai does
not want to offend, impose on or cause discomfort to another person.
They will try to avoid bothering you with their problems, and will be
reluctant to contradict you. It can also be tied in with Thai notions of
respect and hierarchy.
But let’s look again at its literal translation. Kreng means
“to be in awe of” or “to be afraid of”. This may seem rather strong,
but reflects the idea of putting other people before yourself in
consideration. The more important word is the second, jai, which means heart.
generally consider people to think and act based on their logic, and
would suggest that consideration and politeness come from the head. Thai
people however see the heart as the source of their actions. They think
with their heart and their emotions. This demonstrates the tendency of
Thais to describe a person’s characteristics in terms of their heart.
They judge people by their feelings rather than logic, and by their
relations rather than results.
This attitude is reflected in many common phrases in the Thai language. A good person may be jai dee – good hearted. Such a person is caring, sympathetic thoughtful. However, a person who is jai dam – black hearted – is cruel, and not trustworthy, honest or reliable. Jai yen – cool hearted - is considered a good characteristic. Someone who is jai yen is
patient, calm, peaceful, relaxed and composed. They do not lose their
temper easily. A person at the other end of the scale isjai ron – hot hearted. They are impatient, irritable, intolerant and easily angered.
is not just in describing people that Thais focus on the heart. If
someone understands something, it has “entered their heart” – kao jai.
There are hundreds of “jai words"
in the Thai language, and while you do not have to learn them all, it
is important to remember their importance if you want to understand Thai
culture and attitudes.
Blog posted from Prajak Sillapakhom Alley, Nai Mueang, Mueang Nong Khai District, Nong Khai 43000, Thailand View larger map