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As a Westerner, there are many aspects of Thai society and thinking that I find strange, baffling, or frustrating – and sometimes all three at once. But as I read through Walter Ong’s book “Orality and Literacy”, there were several “Ah ha!” moments about Thai culture. Many of his descriptions of oral cultures resonated with things that I’ve observed in Thailand. I felt like I was beginning to understand why the Thai do some of the things that they do, thus disarming the judgmental attitudes that I’ve had at times.
I suspect that many more cultural differences between Thailand and the West that can be tracked back to orality than the ones that I list below. And even these differences likely cannot be attributed entirely to orality. Whether you are primarily oral or literate, other factors such as personality, family background, education, sin, and faith come into play in making a person who they are. To classify all Thai people as oral thinkers and all Westerners as literate thinkers would grossly oversimplify matters. However, as a general grid to think about cultural differences that I encounter, orality and literacy are a helpful framework even though individual people from any culture may fall any place along the spectrum.
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