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Why Thai people never say “No” (and how to tell if they’re REALLY saying “No”)

Thais find it terribly hard to say “no”.

This may stem from the culture of avoiding confrontation or the fear of disappointing others.

Therefore, most Thais try to find ways to say “no” without actually saying it.

They do this even in English sometimes and may cause a misunderstanding because “no” actually means “no” to most westerners.

So, here are some tips that will help you catch those hints and enable you to read between the lines…

Uncertainty:

When Thai people give answers like “ไม่รู้สิ” (mâi rúu sì – I don’t know), or “ขอดูก่อน” (khɔ̌ɔ dūu kɔ̀ɔn – let me see first) without actually giving you the definite time that they’ll decide, it’s probably a “no”.

Justification:

When they show you enthusiasm but give you detailed reasons why they might not make it, like “อยากไปมากๆเลย แต่ไม่รู้นะว่าจะไปได้รึเปล่า เพราะ…” (yàak pai mâak mâak lə̄əy tɛ̀ɛ mâi rúu ná wâa cà pai dâi rʉ́ plào phrɔ́… – I’d very much like to go, but I’m not sure if I can go because…) that’s probably a “no” right from the start.

Compensation:

“ยังไม่แน่ใจคราวนี้ แต่คราวหน้าน่าจะได้นะ” (yang mâi nɛ̂ɛ jai khrāaw níi tɛ̀ɛ khrāaw nâa nâa cà dâi ná – I’m not sure if it’s possible this time, but next time, definitely).  When Thais try to make up for it for not being able to make it, then that’s a closed deal.  They’re not doing it.

BONUS: When “No” Means “Yes”

Now, on the other hand, sometimes a “no” means “yes”, but Thais are just too “เกรงใจ” (krēeŋcāi – afraid of offending or imposing on others) to say “yes” immediately or directly.  They want to do it or accept the offer, but feel shy to accept the proposition too quickly.  In this situation, you’ll just have to insist a few more times until they finally say “yes”.

So how do you spot this?  It normally comes across as a “no”, “never mind”, or “it’s okay” followed by a weak excuse, often sounding like “ไม่น่าลำบากเลยค่ะ” (mâi nâa lambàak lə̄əy khà – don’t have to trouble yourself because of me) or “เกรงใจจัง” (krēeŋcāi caŋ – I don’t want to trouble you).

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