Comparing Cultures: Philippines and Thailand

As a student, I am constantly curious about the different cultures of places around the world. Among all of the countries in the world, I am most enamored by the beauty of Thailand’s culture and that is why for this blog post, I am going to be comparing the lives of the Filipinos to the Kingdom of Thailand.

Thailand is known to be a country full of beaches and temples. Thailand is considered to be one of the friendliest nations in the world and it is mainly rooted the main religion of their country which is Buddhism, with 93% of the country’s population as adherents (Commisceo Global, n.d.) which is a great factor to consider when discussing their actions and their culture. 

The Philippines, on the other hand, is a tropical country made up of more than 7,500 islands and is known for the hospitable nature of its people. Filipinos have their families as the cornerstone of their culture and it would generally revolve around their collectivist behavior.

The blog post will be divided into the GLOBE Study Dimensions and it will also be expounding on the experiences of both countries amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

To kick things off, we must establish each country’s amount of power distance. Power distance is used to measure the relationships of the people in the society; whether it be high or low/superior or subordinate. The Philippines has a high power distance because of the fact that Filipinos respect age and titles. Examples of these are saying “ate” or “kuya” and the actions of doing and saying  “mano po.” We are also fully aware of the social hierarchy that is present and we also acknowledge it. The same rating of high power distance can also be said for Thailand because of the prominence of their king. They also have a dynamic authority-ranking culture that respects where an individual is born from and they also respect the oldest to them. Their concept of ‘wai’ (which is their way of greeting or apologizing to a person by putting both palms near the chest in a prayer-like position and the head should touch the index fingers as you bow) can also vary according to a person’s social class and those people from lower classes bow lower than the other person (Gannon & Pillai, 2016).

Let us now proceed to uncertainty avoidance. It can express how the people of the country react to threats and if they are uncomfortable with change or not. Thailand is strict when it comes to conforming due to the rules and regulations set upon them but I personally think that they are just in the middle of the spectrum. An example of this could be what was indicated in the book; that they have strong conditions to meet but once they’re done with the task they automatically go back to being loose (Gannon & Pillai, 2016). They also honor order and structure, which can also be seen from the statements said in the previous paragraph. They are also open to different genders and preferences of other people. In comparison to Thailand, the people of the Philippines are not that confined to strict regulations. For example, Filipinos are often late when it comes to set meetings, we are much more tolerant of deviance, and our demeanor is much more relaxed.

Next is institutional collectivism, this is where we measure the extent of loyalty to societal interests (Globe Project, 2004). Both Thais and Filipinos have high institutional collectivism cultures because both prioritize shared goals in comparison to individual goals as it is for the best. Another reason for this is Thailand and Philippines’ indirect way of communicating and both would rather pass ideas down and have an intermediary. For the case of Thailand, it can be seen in their preference of having groups in doing schoolwork and in relationships for business practices, which is the concept of ‘guanxi’ and it is directly translated to “having relationships” (Gannon & Pillai, 2016). As for the Philippines, we have the idea of ‘pakikisama’ which is when we have to get along with others and make decisions that cater to the whole group (Culture Shock).

In-group collectivism, on the other hand, is the extent of one’s loyalty to their own organizations or family (GLOBE Project, 2004). Thai people have a preference to cling unto one another into groups and they usually live in compounds and would meet in common areas throughout the day. Just like Thai families, Filipino families also prefer living near one another in compounds and we have a practice of living with our extended family members under a single roof. We also have this concept of ‘utang na loob’ which also creates binding to a group due to loyalty and we are expected to help our family for them to have a pleasant life (Culture Shock).

Gender egalitarianism is where the degree of both male and female equality is actualized (Lumen Learning, n.d.). In the readings that were given to us, the information about gender equality in Thailand are sparse but I did pick up its points for mainly being a patriarchal society with their mentions of the eldest son must make the decisions for the family if their father has already retired (Gannon & Pillai, 2016), and they serve their king and they pass the throne to their closest male family member. Although they are doing their best since the creation of the Gender Equality Act of 2015, and their eager participation in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, Thai women still experience the same problems that other women from other nations do. The Philippines also have highs and lows with regards to gender egalitarianism because most of the time, women are expected to behave modestly, more degraded, and are often being blamed for their partner’s infidelity. But when it comes to businesses and the talks of career, it can be said that women have the same opportunities as males (Culture Shock).

The next one is assertiveness and this is where we find out if the society is forceful or confrontational. Thailand has low assertiveness due to the fact that they would rather “save face” than to correct those who are wrong and they would also rather not answer direct questions being asked to them (Gannon & Pillai, 2016). They also have a Buddhist belief that if they directly communicate, it can be seen as a form of aggression (Gupta et al., 2002) and their approach to communication is indirect and one must ‘read between the lines’ to fully understand what they are talking about (IOR, n.d.). We have relatively the same values as Thailand because we also have concepts of ‘hiya-amor-propio syndrome’ and it can be applied when we’d rather go through an intermediary than to directly say it to other people or we could also say white lies just to protect the feelings of others and lastly, Filipinos have this behavior of always saying “yes” even if we meant to say no (Culture Shock).

Let us talk about both of the countries’ future orientation. Which is the degree to which society values long-term goals than short-term ones. In this section, I believe that Thailand and the Philippines are more or less the same because both are in-between this category but are leaning towards its low end. Both countries are normative because they gravely respect their traditions and the people of both countries generally aim to follow them as they go along in life, both tend to separate materialistic ideals from spiritual fulfillment, and both societies like to be instantly gratified or if money comes their way, they would like to spend it immediately (Tanyaporn, 2018 & Philippine Star, 2010). On the other hand, both cultures are also able and quick to adapt to unforeseen situations due to their flexible nature.

Humane orientation refers to the extent to which generosity or kindness are encouraged or valued (Lumen Learning, n.d.). Thailand and the Philippines both have high levels of humane orientation because both have a collectivist mindset which means they care more about their peers than them leaning towards the state to provide for them. Thailand is known to be a relatively friendly country and they are known for their ‘Thai Smile’ which is a way to keep life pleasant (Gannon & Pillai, 2016). Thai behavior is directly rooted in their practices of Buddhism which generally centers on the concept of ‘karma’ that states that one’s behavior would always result to a consequence and the concept of ‘rebirth’ that states that they will be born again in a new life form based on their behavior in their previous life (Gannon & Pillai, 2016). This further suggests that they treat other people with kindness. The Filipino people are known to be very hospitable, friendly and we are also family-oriented by nature. Filipinos have the ‘bayanihan’ trait which is “working together in a community in order to achieve a common goal” (Abayan, 2017) and we usually extend this trait even towards people that we just met because we also value ‘pakikisama’ in which we prioritize the welfare of the group than of an individual (Culture Shock,).

And lastly, we have, performance orientation. It is the measurement of how a nation involves themselves in innovations, and if they have excellent performance (Lumen Learning, n.d.). I personally think that Thailand and Philippines are both low in terms of performance orientation due to the fact that they both value family and societal relationships because both are collective societies, they are more indirect when they are expressing their feelings and thoughts; both are subtle and both feel uncomfortable when it comes to confrontations. These traits stop them from valuing development, improvement and it also prevents them from being too competitive in all aspects of their lives.

Now that we have established and learned about the different aspects of each of the country’s culture, we can now proceed towards the discussion about the COVID-19 pandemic and how Thailand and the Philippines handled and addressed the current crisis.

Thailand is the first reported country to have a COVID-19 positive patient outside China (World Health Organization, 2020). The Thai government initially started to bring back all of its citizens that were residing in Wuhan, China when the outbreak happened in February, and they placed the country under a state of emergency around March that extends until today and all of those who are infected were administered HIV drugs to treat the patients and most communities are told to screen all of its citizens and should be reported immediately to authorities if the person’s status is questionable (Duddu, 2020). Thailand is more than capable of treating its patients because they have a solid healthcare system and are known to be Asia’s most prepared country in terms of their health security capabilities which can be reflected in their current state (Global Health Security Index, 2019). Their government also issued a nationwide curfew to prevent the spread of the disease and already banned foreign nationals from traveling to the country since April 3, 2020 (Pulitzer, 2020).

During the start of the outbreak, the Philippines do not have any testing sites and was only dependent on Australia to test samples (Department of Health, 2020) but now we have a total of 22 testing sites (Ornedo, 2020) and the University of the Philippines Manila has created a cheap testing kit that will help make testing accessible (Magsambol, 2020) but unfortunately, this is not enough. As long as we won’t have the capacity to do mass testing for everyone, the curve would not flatten soon. The country has banned all flights to the Philippines last March 20, 2020 (Department of Foreign Affairs, 2020) and the government also imposed a Luzon-wide and other most frequently visited areas in Visayas and Mindanao to undergo a lockdown that is still ongoing to this day to help prevent the spread of the disease. Two of the biggest problems that the country faced is how the government managed the whole situation when it blew up and how our healthcare system is not stable enough to counter this pandemic. They facilitated tests for V.I.P.s but not for regular citizens, the President became dismissive of the whole epidemic until April, our hospitals are understaffed and they lack the equipment to fight against the virus and the lack of empathy and support from the LGUs are outstanding; leaving most Filipinos hungry.

Thailand has noticeably low cases with only 2,988 cases and 2,747 people have already recovered (Bangkok Post, 2020) in comparison to the Philippines with 9,485 cases with only 1,315 recovered people (DOH, 2020) as of May 5, 2020. If we are to look at the trends, the curve is slowly flattening for Thailand, and they are easing their lockdown restrictions, and people are finally allowed to do whatever they please while practicing social distancing measures and healthcare regulations (The Straits Times, 2020). As for the Philippines, most of the areas affected are still undergoing the extended community quarantine lockdown until May 15, 2020, and I think it is premature to say that everything is going fine for the country because the curve has not been flattened yet. In line with this, I don’t think that it is a smart idea for the Philippines to pursue the general community quarantine status this early on because we don’t have the proper statistics to prove that it is safe to do so. Although all countries have their own underlying issues during this COVID-19 pandemic, I think it is still safe to conclude that Thailand has better chances of surviving this epidemic with little hits on different aspects of society because of the way they made decisions and managed the crisis.

By doing these comparisons, we can learn more about the different cultures of countries while delving deeper to where those values and concepts were taken from. This also gives us an outlet to understand their way of living especially when a country’s culture is different from our way of life and it would be easier to accept their behavior when it comes to our differences. As one can tell from the information given about Thailand and the Philippines, they are almost the same for most of the cultural dimensions like humane orientation and their power distance. A reason for this can be rooted in both of our ancestors in the past since we are situated in the same region of the world and maybe even because of our respective religions that greatly affect each of our values.

As for each of the country’s state during the current pandemic, it is saddening to see that the Philippines cannot keep up with its neighboring countries. It is also upsetting to know that the Thai government has fully supported its healthcare system while ours cannot do the same and I do hope that we learn from countries such as Thailand during these trying times.



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