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All quiet at the Aussie Bar in Patong after the beer mat ''nightmare''

Phuket's Beer Mat Martyrs and Cultural Chasms

Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Phuketwan Opinion/Analysis

AUSSIE BAR owner Steve Wood was planning to fly out today on a trip to Australia, a flight that Annice Smoel wishes she could be making.

Instead, the mother of four is a prisoner on Phuket, free to roam but with her passport being held by police until she appears in court over an alleged case of theft in Patong.

Is she really a fully-fledged bar mat martyr?

The media in Australia has wound itself into a high degree of indignation over the case, which has radio station talk-back callers foaming at the mouth.

Ms Smoel, 36, was out of luck to a certain extent, because the Australian honorary consul for Phuket, Larry Cunningham, was on holidays . . . in Australia.

Mr Cunningham is usually called in to sort out these predicaments for visitors before they become serious issues. Sadly, he wasn't around to be called out at 2am to help on this occasion.

Several weeks ago, Phuketwan put in a request to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra to talk to Mr Cunningham about the kinds of pitfalls that await Aussie tourists on Phuket. There are plenty of them.

Despite several reminder emails, the department has not yet deigned to reply to that request.

And that's part of the problem:

If visitors were made aware of the dangers and went to the trouble of learning a little about Thai culture and law in advance, there would be fewer indignant rages when holidays go haywire.

Many of the Australians who visit Phuket these days do not take the time or the trouble to learn anything about the country beforehand.

They see the McDonald's and the KFCs and Starbuck's and imagine that, apart from the great weather, Phuket is just like home.

It isn't.

For example, Thais find male tourists who parade around supermarkets without wearing a shirt quite obscene. Even on the beaches, lack of clothing is frowned upon.

And the one thing that no tourist should ever do on Phuket is lose his or her cool.

While Western society allows for a little bit of anger and a release valve for it, Thai culture does not.

To lose your cool in any situation in Thailand usually has precisely the opposite effect of what the person wishes to achieve, and that appears to have been the case with Ms Smoel.

If she thinks she has been unfairly treated, she should compare notes with Simon Burrowes, a Briton who finally caught a plane out of Phuket last weekend after a ''holiday'' that ran three months longer than he expected.

He swore at the Immigration counter at Phuket airport, spent three weeks in jail before being bailed, and lost his non-returnable flight fare, his job, and his rented apartment in London.

When he appeared in court, he was fined 500 baht for being impolite to an official.

All in all, the punishment far outweighed the crime, and many Thais were sympathetic and sought to help him.

But all the noises being made in Australia are not likely to help Annice Smoel.

It is foolish for her lawyers to be telling Thai police that what they have done ''seems simply crazy.''

All they have done is arrest a suspected thief, then, from all accounts, rejected the offer of a bribe. How ''crazy'' is that?

Whether she is innocent or guilty, Annice Smoel will hopefully be free to fly after a court appearance on Monday.

And a little more active media attention to publicise points of difference and potential pitfalls on the part of DFAT might prevent other tourists falling after her into the cultural chasm.

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Comments have been disabled for this article.


Why would anyone want to visit Thailand ?.
If Thais want tourism then they will have to get over themselves and their cultural inflexibility and be hospitable rather than hostile.
I think some officials in Thailand are just a bit too precious to be allowed to have any dealings with tourists...they need a course in public relations before they damage Thailand's tourist industry any further.
Editor: 99.99 percent of tourists have a wonderful time in Thailand. It's a wonderful place. Usually it's the ''cultural inflexibility'' of visitors that leads to problems. Thais are extremely tolerant in almost every respect, but some tourists seem to imagine the laws apply to everyone except them.

Posted by Iain on May 20, 2009 14:13


I have to disagree with Alan Morison on parts of this article. People especially adults should not need to be told how to behave or be culturally aware when visiting foreign countries they simply should just behave themselves.

The australian Government or any other government should not have to educate them on the ethics and decorum of foreign travel.

In all my travelling overseas and on numerous visits and extended periods of residence in Thailand I have never encountered a problem with the local communities, providing you are not rude, abusive intolerant or obnoxious toward them they are a gracious civil and wonderful people and I have always felt at home in their country and a lot safer also.

As far as Iain's comments go it is not the Thais that need to "get over themselves and their cultural inflexibility and be hospitable" it is us Iain as visitors to their country to behave in an acceptable and appropriate manner and not as boorish, drunken loudmouthed Ugly Australians.

This type of behaviour is all too common in Thailand, Malaysia and the Indonesian Island of Bali. We have to get over it not the host population and you Iain need to do some serious growing up.

Posted by Adrian Thomas on May 20, 2009 15:45

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