According to a report in The Nation, a new Khon Kaen University study has focussed on the cultural impact of “Thai-Westerner marriages“. Briefly, it found that:

…foreign son-in-laws had caused the community-oriented Northeasterners to become the more individualistic and give less attention to social interaction

The report continues by noting (my emphasis) that:

The wives still ate somtam, which they grew up eating, but also ate pizza, hamburgers or fried chicken as a symbol of their adjustment to Western culture. Many ended up eating both local and Western dishes, while their husbands found it harder to adjust to local food and stuck more to Western food…since the wives found it more convenient to cook once for all family members including their husbands, Northeastern food – especially somtam with fermented fish – had gradually disappeared from their meals.

Other changes are also highlighted:

From the traditional practice of parents choosing spouses for their children, the decision is now made by the individual and is based mainly on economic security. Some women agreed to marry foreigners they had never met before the wedding day as they felt that if the man had money, the villagers would eventually accept and respect them. With the obvious increase in wealth of wives married to farang, due to their husbands’ financial support, some 90 per cent of residents surveyed said they wanted their daughters to marry foreigners…

The study is based on interviews with “231 Thai wives in Khon Kaen, Udon Thani and Roi Et”. Those interviews have been used to extrapolate a general pattern of social process and interaction. The researchers seem to lament the many marriage-induced changes that are, we are told, currently roaring through the northeast.

To me at least, this narrative of “somtam lost” is largely unconvincing. Can we offer a better interpretation or analysis than that provided by The Nation?

Many contributors and readers here on New Mandala have a great deal more experience in this part of Thailand than I do.

Comments and insights on this study, or the wider issue of Issan marriage dynamics, are very welcome.