(A must read) The dreaded dowry. Is it a way for your future in-laws to get their hands into your pot of gold, or is it a legitimate part of Thai culture that should be respected in the same way as you respect the King, Buddhism and many aspects
of life in the Kingdom? There are good arguments both for and against the dowry and I try to discuss them in this week's column.
It is the thing that gets Westerners pursuing relationships with Thai lades up in arms more than anything else. It is usually referred to as a dowry but technically, it is not a dowry at all. A dowry is money or goods given from the bride's
family to the groom's family to take the daughter off theirs hands. In Thailand the groom or groom's family pays the bride's family money, goods or both so as to marry the daughter, so it is a bride's price. This is a common practice in many
South East Asian countries, Moslem countries, pre-communist Russia, and with old testament Jews.
Generally, Westerners marrying Thai women are against the idea of paying a bride price. Many feel that it is unreasonably harsh to pay a bride price when they are also taking over the financial obligation of looking after not only their wife to
be, but possibly the family too, and that could be quite a lot of family members in the cases of some families! Remember, very few Thai women have the earning potential of their Western husbands. Other Westerners feel that it places a major
financial burden on the newly wed couple at a time when they are starting a new life - and at a time when the wedding ceremony and party may already be costing them a small fortune. Perhaps more than anything else, the Western notion, perhaps even
the Western ideal, of love in it's purest form, views money as totally outside of the equation of love and marriage. In an ideal world, the average Westerner gets married for love, and thus money should not be a part of it.
From the Thai perspective, there are several common arguments as to why the bride price is a valid tradition and integral part of the marriage ceremony. The first is that the bride price is seen as compensation to the Thai family for the cost
of raising their children. Next there is the idea of compensation to the parents for the loss of a worker i.e. the lady in question may help around the house, or may be a farm hand or labourer so now the family has lost a set of hands. Further,
by paying the bride price, the groom proves that he has the money and means to support his wife to be. And should anything happen to the groom, the money paid could be used to look after her, almost like a sort of insurance policy. There is
also the idea that a Thai woman who has been married but then goes on to divorce is considered "used property" by many Thai men, at least in terms of marriage prospects - and a Thai woman who has been previously married to a farang would be considered
marred by the majority of Thai men. But perhaps the most significant issue for the family of the bride to be is that an enormous amount of face can be gained by the payment of a high bride price for their daughter - or lost by no bride price being
received. People will applaud loudly when the bride price is read out at the wedding ceremony and you can bet your bottom dollar that that is the highlight for many of the nosy neighbours. They've been waiting to find out just how much?
Of course it is your right to refuse to pay the bride price and cite the perfectly acceptable reason (to us Westerners) that you are farang and it is absolutely not part of our culture, and in many ways is considered vulgar by Westerners that one should
have to essentially pay for his wife. But, like it or not, many Thai families, especially the more traditional, will refuse to allow their daughter to marry if a bride price is not paid. And without the parent's blessing in a culture that is
very much family centred, you will be right up against it from day one. You'll place the bride to be in an awful situation where she is virtually forced to choose between you and her family and make no bones about it, in most situations you will come
second - which is last - and you are back to square one.
So, how is the bride price set? Generally speaking, you will sit down with the parents of the bride to be, with your bride to be present, next to the parents. You should have someone present to assist you, preferably someone close to you
who is a respected or senior member of the community, someone who commands respect and who understands the bride price system. Friendly negotiation will take place and the bride price will be set in baht along with a certain amount of gold.
There will also be the expectation that a diamond ring will be provided, although this is something that is usually worked out between the couple and the parents do not usually discuss this.
There is a very real possibility that a Westerner who flat out refuses to pay a bride price may miss out on the chance to marry the lady he loves, and even if he does go on to marry her, the damage done by such a flat out refusal may hamper relations
between himself and his in-laws potentially which may result in serious problems down the line. Remember, if no bride price is received (irrespective of whether they keep it or give it back immediately after the ceremony), they will have lost serious
face. But yeah, if you are totally against it, you have every right to refuse. Just try and take your time to understand it from the other side, even if you fundamentally disagree with it. If marrying a girl fro ma traditional family,
I'd strongly recommend anyone who is against it relent and pay it on condition that it is returned in it's entirety immediately after the ceremony.
So what happens with the money? This is where things start to get confusing and where serious disagreement may occur. This is the time when your are essentially called on to trust your in-laws. In some cases, the family will keep the
money themselves, and may in fact go and spend it within hours of the wedding ceremony being over. Untold stories circulate about poor rural families buying appliances, or if the bride price extends quite that far, a new pickup trick, with the money!
It may be used to pay debts or it may be used to buy land. While it is somewhat of a generalisation, rural families from the Northeast seem to have a high propensity for keeping the money - and getting rid of it fast! This is one extreme.
Other families may handle it differently. The money may be returned very soon, or even immediately after the wedding ceremony has finished. In such cases, the money is simply there for show, to ensure that face is gained and that the reputation
of the family remains very good. This is the other extreme.
What the more traditional families tend to do is hang on to the money for a period of time, and return some or all if it to the couple once they have proved that the marriage is going along well - although just how they judge that is anyone's guess.
The money may well be handed back when the couple wishes to make a major purchase such as a car or a house.
It is imperative that you discuss up front with the family exactly what will happen with the money. As the amount being handed over may be significant, you have every right to know exactly what will happen to it. Even if it is a small amount,
you have a right to know what will happen so do not be shy to discuss this explicitly. It is all negotiable too! Incidentally, one older Thai woman who I know, trust and respect said that any bride price should be seen as an investment in the
relationship which should be returned to the bride to use as she sees fit, and should not be returned to the groom. One obviously also needs to have confidence in the person that the money is given to inasmuch that what is said is what will actually
happen. If there are any trust issues, then perhaps it is not wise to proceed? All of this begs the question of what happens if the relationship goes rocky in the early stages? You may very well find yourself in a situation where the bride
price is not returned - and there is little you can do about it! Given the level of trust that we are talking about here, it would seem prudent to spend as much time as possible with your future inlaws even before such discussions take place.
No-one likes the bride price, including the Thai men themselves. Various Thai men gave me advice about the bride price before I got married and their comments made it totally clear that they are not in favour if it either, but that they accept
it and just get on with it. A lot of what was said to me suggested that they are very aware from an early age of the expense of getting married and the requirement to provide for their future family. I'm not so sure that us Westerners are so
clear on this as the roles of the man and the woman in relationships and marriage in the West have become decidedly hazy recently. The roles and expectations of each person in relationships in this part of the world are a lot more clearly defined.
So, to the big question. Just how much should one pay? What follows here is an admittedly very loose guide based on a lot of questions to a lot of people, most of whom I trust. I'll say it again - this should be looked at as nothing
but a VERY loose guide! Recent high profile weddings have shown that obscene amounts of money can change hands. The wedding between former Miss Thailand, Bui, and that filthy rich businessman saw a bride price of a cool $US 10 million paid,
along with gold, a massive great diamond ring and who knows what else? Two other recent high profile marriages saw two members of parliament pay 4,444,444 baht and 999,999 baht respectively. In terms of farang marriages, I have heard sums in
the range of 30,000 baht to 1,000,000 baht paid. I am told that anything less than 100,000 baht is strictly bargirl or lo-so territory and if it goes over 300,000 baht then she should either be very hi-so, awfully special or educated and from a respected
family. So, it would seem that the reasonable range for Westerners marrying decent Thai women would be in the range of 100,000 - 300,000 baht. Yes, there are a million determinants and there are plenty of instances where figures outside
of this range could be considered fair. This is strictly a basic guideline.
There are many determinants in the price including the standing of the family in the community, the girl's education, her relationship past, her job etc.
We're talking about marriage in Thailand here and in many ways, the bride price should be looked at as your first installment in what will be a lifetime of paying.
So, what about me? How did I handle it? Well, if you had asked me 4 or 5 years ago if I would willingly pay a bride price as part of a marital ceremony, I would have laughed at you and told you in in uncertain terms what I thought about
that. But times have changed, Stickman has both mellowed and learnt a lot more about Thailand, and yes, Stickman most definitely did pay a bride price. However, it was all handled in such a way that it truly did not bother me in the least. Thinking
about it before hand, I thought it would be hard to go through with that aspect of the marriage, but it wasn't - and I can truly say that I do not regret it for a moment.
There are many good reasons why the bride price is asked for, and just as valid reasons against it. You have to decide whether you are prepared to pay or not. However, bear in mind that many a farang has fallen at the final hurdle and later
regretted it. Remember that ladies who come from a traditional or conservative background, the very women who I believe most Westerners are seeking, will likely have a family who expects to see a bride price paid, and failure to pay it may mean that
you miss out on the lady of your dreams. You have to choose your battles. Will you battle over the bride price?