April 24, 2013

Lao Dating 101 - Impressions - Part 1

How to impress your Lao date, boyfriend or girlfriend?

So you're dating a Lao person (be it a girl, guy, transexual or what have you – we’re not judging here!), but you're uncertain of what you could do to impress them, to show consideration of their Lao heritage, to be able to somehow acknowledge their cultural sensibilities and yet ensure that you both have a great time.

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Well first of all, congrats on having a date or a significant person in your life who is Lao! :)  (Count your blessings and thank Buddha!)  Secondly, it's great that you're being culturally aware of the person you're seeing.  It's very thoughtful of you to be doing this type of research because gawd knows there are people out there who could care less about cultural knowledge.

The following are just suggestions and tips to help you along the way.  Certainly there will always be exceptions to any rule.  If you’re Lao dating Lao, then you’re probably aware of a lot of the following items.  However if you’re non-Lao dating a Lao person, then you’ll definitely find all of this very helpful (or at least we hope so).

Let's get started...

Buy a Lao cultural book (and if you can't find a cultural book, try a Laos travel book) – It can teach you tons of stuff.  Buy one or a few.  And have them purposely lying around if you have your date over.  They’ll think it’s cute that you’re reading about Lao stuff.  And if they show interest in what you’re reading, offer to share the book.  It's a good conversation piece.

Learn a few Lao words or phrases – It shows you have an interest or at the very least are open to the idea of learning a bit of the language.  Learning a new language shows intelligence and not everyone can do it well, especially when it comes to learning an Asian one.  Prove that you’re smart.  Smart is sexy...;)

Internet – If you’re serious about learning Lao culture on behalf of your Lao date, the internet is an incredible resource as there are tons of stuff on Lao language, food, and culture.  Of course you already know this, it's why you're here!  Explore and type away in that search box and might I add, explore more of this website.

Take them out to a Lao restaurant (or if your city doesn’t have one, perhaps a Thai one) –  This one comes with a bit of a caveat.  While most Lao people would enjoy going to a Lao or Thai restaurant, they might have some misgivings about letting other people in the community or their own family know that they’re on a date.  If staff or owners are close to the family or to the ethnic community, then they may prefer to go to another restaurant altogether, if the intent is to keep the date a bit of a secret (at least from the parents for a while).  So suggest it and see how they respond.

Consider going to a Lao boon (celebration).  They’re fun, there’s dancing and good food!  Lao community is always welcoming of others who take an interest in our culture.

Values.  I’ve always believed that no matter how westernized a Lao person might be (this applies more to the Lao expats living abroad but it can apply to those living in Laos too) that really at the core they are quite conservatively Lao on the inside.  That’s because if they were raised in a Lao household, they would have experienced having Lao parents, hearing their advice, seeing their interaction between mother and father (which typically is quite conservative especially when it comes to relationships) and understanding the Lao community with all its intricacies and politics.

Displays of affection.  While on the date, if you’re not in Laos, then no heavy displays of physical affection in public but just a bit is ok and definitely none of that in front of the parents or other family members.  For those in Laos, no public display of affection at all – save it for when you’re in private.  It doesn't matter if you're a Lao couple, an inter-racial couple, straight, gay, etc.  These rules apply to all.  It's simply considered culturally inappropriate to do otherwise.

Understanding relationships.  This is an important key:  Lao people are not quite like Thais where Thais may be more open in terms of sex and relationships and in some cases they openly encourage their own people to date or marry others who are non-Thai (I hope I haven’t offended anyone but this is something I've observed).  I mention this because often times people will say Lao and Thai are the same.  I would argue, there are similarities but definitely not the same.

Although many Lao can be open and progressive, there is that conservative side (as mentioned earlier) where many Lao try to encourage other Lao to date their own.  For those in Laos, it’s even more conservative relationship-wise.  Foreign non-Lao men are seen as sexual predators and a threat to the availability of Lao women for other Lao men.  While that statement may sound strong, I would also like to balance that out by also saying that the truth is at the same time Lao people will be quite accepting of anyone into the community even if they are non-Lao, as long as that person is open and nice.  Additionally, expatriate Lao men who go back to Laos in search for a wife are accepted and it seems to happen more often than you would think.

Parents.  If you’re meeting the family for the first time, be very respectful of the parents.  It can make or break the relationship which it can be said is similar to other cultures too.  Parents are held in high regard in Lao families and most Lao children have a close relationship with their parents.  It’s important to be courteous and to stay on the conservative side in any dealings with them.  Reminder as noted above, no physical affection in front of the family.  If your date has siblings, be good to them too.  The more people you can get on your side, the better.  Also if the parents are not fluent in English, or whichever language you speak, do not take their quietness as a sign that they don’t want to talk to you.  They may simply be shy or nervous about meeting you as well.  Moreover, they may not be fluent in a particular language other than Lao and therefore hesitate more to speak.  But it doesn’t mean they’re not interested in you and your relationship with their child.  Lao people are all about family and heritage so they will certainly ask or at least want to know about your background and your family so feel free to share that info.  From their perspective, it's hoped that you had a good upbringing and come from a good family, that you're educated, have a good job, and so fourth - all the good things right?

Final note on this is that if you're meeting the family, it's usually considered a big deal.  Asians in general don't bring home dates unless they feel the relationship is serious or something extra special.  So take this as a sign that your Lao date is really into you and considers you serious dating material.  It's a compliment in not so many words.  So if they invite you to meet the family, say yes (that is if you're serious too).

Strength.   They will surprise you by being much more tougher and more in control of the relationship than you'd have thought.  Appreciate that they have this backbone and strength of character.  Because it also means they'll love you well and have your back in a fight.

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-  Submitted by:  VM.  Disclaimer:  The opinions and advice here are those of this contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of Laoconnection.com.

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