Thai Girlfriend Gifts & Birthdays

By Mark (from Scotland)

One massive advantage of having a decent Thai girlfriend is her lack of material desire when it comes to those special times of year that a Western woman would demand you get out the platinum card.

My girlfriend’s birthday is coming up and her response to my stress about what to get her is that I shouldn't bother.

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I’ve seen it first-hand that Thai’s don’t particularly bother with birthdays, but my girl is westernised enough to realise that I expected a gift on my birthday. My birthday came first in the timeline of the relationship and meant that I didn’t really get that birthdays weren’t a big deal until later on.

Of course, there is a difference in the celebration of a child’s birthday and an adult’s birthday.

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In the past few weeks there have been a spate of birthdays. First my girlfriend’s mum and her grandmother, I don’t believe either of whom got anything particularly significant beyond a cake. Then it was both my girlfriend’s sister and nephew...

Bizarrely my girlfriend’s sister gave birth to her son on her birthday, as did my girlfriend’s grandmother to her daughter (my girlfriend’s mum) on her birthday. So of the six family members who live in this house, four birthdays are covered by a couple of days that are just a few weeks apart.

So what that means is that my Thai girlfriend’s sister’s birthday is totally overshadowed by her child’s. To be fair, that would probably happen in Western culture too. Statistically unlikely shared birthdays are not exclusive to Thailand. Everyone in the family got the child a gift. My girlfriend’s sister only got a pair of trainers from her husband.

gifts for thai girlfriendA golden gift for a Thai girlfriend usually tops the most desired list...

The kid got a cake for school and a cake with the family the following day. My girlfriend’s sister got a share in the latter perhaps. The kid blew out the candles, but he also blew out the candles on my birthday cake and everyone else’s as well on their birthdays. He’s only four.

My Spoiled Nephew

Buying the nephew presents is actually becoming a bit difficult now. With neither of the two designated present giving ceremonies to force him to wait for, it seems this family are more likely to buy him gifts on a whim. I contribute to the problem by bringing him back things from the various countries I visit for work.

Those gifts don’t necessarily have much to do with the country I visit, though I did bring him back a boomerang from Australia and some toy nun chucks from Japan. Mostly it’s just toy guns. He likes guns. He never gets tired of shooting me.

If it was my child I probably wouldn’t approve of giving him guns, but as he already has a big pile of toy weaponry, I don’t feel I’m creating any future problems by adding to it. I’d concede that I’m probably exacerbating it.

The result is tantrums in shops when he sees a toy gun that he doesn’t have already, or even in some cases some toys he does already have.

I was brought up hearing the lines, ‘put it on your Christmas list’ or ‘wait until your birthday.’ Has the rampant commercialisation at certain times of the year in the West actually hurt our rampant consumption at other points of the year? Or were my parents simply more frugal and wary of me turning out to be a spoilt brat than other parents? And does my girlfriend’s sister have such an excuse to use on her son?

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My gift for my Thai girlfriend...

I’m not expecting my girl will get much from her family for her 24th birthday. A cake seems to be expected. She is having a low key gathering with friends, but as we are not planning to go out, I doubt anyone will be buying her anything at all, not even the customary drink I would expect from my friends back home. Perhaps someone might bring some food or drink for the party that they are prepared to share.

It looks like I will probably be giving her the biggest and most important gift, by default, which is a pair of rollerblades, as that’s an activity she has expressed a desire to do a few times recently, but not something she will likely be expecting.

The cost was doubled as I had to get a pair for myself to go with her, but I think this will still be the best gift she gets, unless she has a really nasty fall or something as soon as she tries them on of course – quite likely as we are having a gathering that involves alcohol.

Festive occasions...

Thai girls also have little concern for Christmas. Christmas is a Christian holiday, so in a primarily Buddhist country there is no huge hype around it. Obviously the foreign influx has meant that there are plenty of Christmas activities and Westerners celebrating, but it’s nothing like the scale of the obsession around the event in the West.

Don’t expect your Thai girlfriend to even have the day off. Fortunately mine works for Westerners so is therefore given a couple of weeks off while the rest of the company jet off back to the UK to spend time with family.

We do exchange gifts on Christmas as well of course. I’ve spent my Christmases during our relationship at home however, so I’ve yet to witness a Christmas in Thailand. She says that they do sometimes exchange gifts for Christmas, but it’s not really a big deal or tradition.

Even her spoiled nephew only really celebrates Christmas at his international school. Santa only brings a sack full of presents to western children however; his Christmas haul is piddling in comparison to what he could have expected had he been brought up in an equivalent middle class British or American family.

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Thai holidays such as the Thai New Year Songkran festival that involves a nationwide water fight haven’t gone the way of Western holidays have with rampant commercialism. Sure, everyone is selling water guns, replacement flip flops for when you lose yours in the mele, water, beer etc, but you just pick them up on the day; there aren’t three months of adverts for water guns to endure.

There is a tradition of gift giving on New Year, but that is more family to family than person to person. Thais sometimes seem to fail to have grasped concepts of commercialisation we have in the West. For instance one of the cheapest beers I’ve had in Thailand was at an Army United football match. It appears that they haven’t grasped that as it’s half-time in the match and I only have 15 minutes to purchase goods, I can be fleeced for plenty more due to the lack of alternatives.

That perhaps explains why the traditions of gift giving on New Year and celebrations on Songkran haven’t gone the way of Christmas in the West as corporations seek to extract maximum profit from the events. Before you say Christmas lends itself to commercialisation more than the equivalent Thai festival, what about Easter, Halloween, Valentines Day and Mothers Day? The former two being jumped on to extract as much as possible, while the latter two have simply been created in parts of the year where businesses suffered due to the lack of incentive to buy.

I actually quite like buying presents for people, so I’m not looking to avoid the responsibility of buying gifts for my Thai girlfriend. It’s actually me who pushes the gift giving celebrations on my Thai girlfriend, but there’s none of the pressure that there is back home. My gifts have ranged from $10 value to $150 value. If it’s late it’s fine, if it’s not particularly thoughtful, or a blatantly selfish gift, there isn’t going to be a problem.

Don’t expect to save money by dating a Thai girl, but there is a compelling argument to date a girl here if you want to escape the overly consumerist culture of the West.

Key Learning Points:

  • Thais very often spoil young children rotten; they’ll constantly be buying them gifts and pampering them in ways far beyond what you will see in the West. It all stops after a certain age when the Ga-tan-yoo concept starts to be instilled into them. This does not mean that you do not need to buy your Thai girlfriend any gifts on her birthday! Actually, she will appreciate regular gifts whether it’s her birthday or not. The gifts needn’t be anything expensive, the are just a way of letting her know that you have been thinking of her… this is very common in Thailand and you should expect to receive regular gifts too if you have found a good natured girl.
  • The buying of gifts during national holidays is nothing like it is in the West where considerable expense is laid out. The flip side is that you need to be constantly looking for little gifts in order to make you girl feel loved. Gifts are usually a good idea when visiting Thai family members too – it relates to the Nam Jai concept that I’ve already explained above.

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