If there is anything I don't like about Thai manners, it's how we do not speak our minds.
I was raised to mind my manners: When approaching older people, I was taught always to speak gently and humbly, with my eyes cast down and a soft smile on my face. I was instructed always to listen to what they said, and to be agreeable even when I did not agree. Above all, I was never to raise any question, for that would be disrespectful.
If older people were to give me (unsolicited) advice, I was to accept it gratefully with a beautiful "wai;" and, if they criticized me, I was to thank them for they only meant well.
As young as the age of 3, while in nursery school, I questioned the idea itself: "But why can't I say anything?"
My teacher would immediately raise her hand as if to spank me, and with a scowl on her face she would say, "How disrespectful of you! Your parents didn't teach you well? Do not question my authority! Go sit over there!"
Even at that early age it was already drilled into me that my behavior reflected on my upbringing, and I therefore needed to be on my best behavior so that my family would not be shamed.
I knew right away that I was in trouble.
Sure enough, the teacher reported the incident to my grandmother, who came to pick me up that afternoon. She looked clearly upset; but, according to what I gathered from the conversation she had with my
teacher, she wasn't pleased with her. Toward the end, my nursery school teacher kept repeating, "Ka...ka...ka khun Sa-nguon. Ka... I will keep this in mind." With her head bowed and her eyes cast down, she "waied" my grandmother with utter respect (so it seemed).
After I waied my teacher good bye, my grandmother and I started walking home.
"Gafaae, you cannot raise your voice with your teacher. Understand?"
"Grandma," I started, then toned down my voice so it wouldn't seem like I was arguing." I didn't raise my voice. I was just asking!"
My grandmother then said to me, "That's 'raising your voice,' in a way." She sighed and continued: "Asking a question after the adults have taught you something- that's talking back. That's questioning an authority figure, not to mention disrespectful."
"But..." I started.
Another sigh: "You just take what we teach you and do what we ask. One day when you grow up you will understand and appreciate everything we have taught you."
That was it. I didn't have any more run-ins with any adult. I made sure, to whom this mattered, that I was an obedient little girl.
This was when I learned to put on my best face with others, while keeping the "real" me underneath.