Don’t THAI to me; Thailand’s culture for bending the truth


Liars.  Cheaters.  For many people these words conjure up images of sneaky, dishonest people.  So how is it that the wonderful people of the Land of Smiles can be associated with them so?

Anyone who has spent any time working within the education system in Thailand will have seen some evidence of cheating.  Copied tests (sometimes, even PHOTOcopied which is amazingly blatant), completed notebooks handed around the classroom, plagarised work unashamedly stolen from the internet.

I have been handed work that has been hand copied, beautifully, but when you read through it it is 100% plagarism, through and through.  They go so far as to copy the footnotes, links and references that don’t need to be there. I’ve had pieces of writing with, “Click here to see our article on global warming”.  Clear evidence that it was not only taken from the internet but also that the student hadn’t even taken the time to read through it – or did, and didn’t understand.

The best students are the ones that aren’t even clever about it.  If you’re going to try and cheat, at least try and put some thought into it.  If you are going to copy your best friend, don’t copy it word for word, or even better, trace it.  Teachers have a keen eye and can not only spot a copied piece of work but can usually identify the original piece.  I’ve had a whole class hand in work with around 70% all copied from one student, including her mistakes…  dexciping is not a word and it is very unlikely that three quarters of a class all individually dreamed it up.  Another time a ‘personal postcard’ turned into a copy cat drama when all of the students turned in the same piece of work.

thai-students-wear-anti-cheat-hatImages like this one have been doing the rounds on the internet.  Anti-cheating hats in a university exam.

Yesterday this article appeared on Coconuts Bangkok, by Joel Gershon; a lecturer at a university in Bangkok who carried out a survey of his students looking at their opinions on cheating – yes, it still goes on even at university level.  According to his article cheating is widespread and little is done about it.

Recently a Thai friend of mine posted on facebook that there was a new slang phrase emerging from Malaysia and Hong Kong that labelled all Thai’s as dishonest.  “Don’t Thai to me” has become the topic of many Thai forums and websites.  It’s a clever twist on Don’t lie to me – I hope I didn’t actually have to explain that for you to understand…

This opinion article on the Bangkok Post website is written by a Thai person in reaction to the emergence of this phrase and is candidly frank and (ironically) honest about the cheating situation in Thailand;

…let’s understand that we cheat and lie for a good cause. It’s a matter of cultural perception. We lie because it’s polite. Our social norm is based on “face value”. We must give face, even if it means lying.  To lose face is a great embarrassment.

© Post Publishing PCL. All rights reserved.

So once again, the concept of losing face supersedes all.  As a teacher, it is difficult to be part of a system that allows cheating, especially when it is denied and a blind eye is turned.  All that we can do is try to encourage students to do their own work and praise them when they do.  I try my best to spot the copied work and hand it back to students, asking for an orginal piece – it confuses them, but hopefully eventually they will realise that I would rather see an OK piece of work written by the actual student than a perfectly copied piece of someone else’s writing.


10 thoughts on “Don’t THAI to me; Thailand’s culture for bending the truth

    1. Yes, they let it slide because cheating = passing = looking better as a school. If they made students do all their work honestly they would have more fails! Some schools are better, but my experience is that on the whole they turn a blind eye. So when us foreign teachers try to clamp down on it we are seen as worrying over nothing!

  1. my soon to be ex-thai actually does this for living at her shop. Writes and copies papers for students that are to lazy to their own home work. Just shows that there culture is telling them that lying and cheating is a way of life there. Really sad……

  2. I am thinking of creating some persuasive writing lessons that ask students to analyze the positives and negatives of copying the work of others, so at the very least there will be some reflection about it. Most of the reflection may take place verbally in class, and there may be some copying of the written work, but any hope of cultivating a new attitude will begin there. I just try to keep my expectations reasonable and my approach inclusive.

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