Thailand is known all over the world as the “Land of Smiles.” New visitors often assume that the Thais are a very friendly and happy people, but this is a bit of an oversimplification.
Thais have a much broader range of uses for smiling than westerners. Thai may even smile in situations which would be considered as inappropriate or even as rude in the west. For example, if a Thai bumps into you in a bar and spills some of your drink, he’ll probably smile – a reaction that is unlikely to go down well with the average foreigner.
But the smile (yim in Thai) is perceived in Thailand as being just about the most appropriate reaction to any possible situation. It’s used to show a multitude of feelings and emotions including: happiness, embarrassment, fear, tension, resignation and remorse. What the smile means depends on the ‘type’ being used and is often hard for foreigners to distinguish.
So, just because a Thai is smiling, you can’t assume that they are happy. It helps to be aware of the less pleasant varieties of smiles though. It will help you to keep from being mesmerized by the ‘happiness’ of everyone that you don’t see what’s really going on underneath the sometimes superficial smile.