Tag Archives: dowry

Thai pre-wedding custom

Main Piece:

Informant: Here’s there’s this thing called a Sin Sod. It’s a price that the groom must pay the bride’s family before they can get married. It’s not as bad as it seems. It’s actually kind of sweet! The bride’s family will usually gift it back at the wedding. It’s more of a formality than anything else. Money is a big part of Thai culture, so marrying up a wealth bracket is really uncommon, especially for guys. The Sin Sod is just like…confirmation that the groom is worthy of supporting the bride.

Background: The informant is second generation Thai. His parent’s came to America long before he was born. He is very familiar which Thai culture as he typically travels there at least once every year. The informant does not have any first-hand experience with this tradition. He learned of it through his classmates when spending a semester abroad in Bangkok. This conversation was recorded in person while in Thailand during a USC trip the two of us were on together.

Context: Having seen it first hand, Thai culture is incredibly fixated on the public perception of money and status. The wealth gap is incredibly drastic in Thailand, especially in Bangkok, which is where we were. In addition, it is legally forbidden to speak ill of the royal family in Thailand. Status is trans-generational in the truest sense of the word in Thailand.

Analysis: When I went to Thailand, I had very little knowledge surrounding values of the culture. In experiencing it with no prior knowledge, I came to see Bangkok as one part extravagance and one part destitute. I remember seeing a lavish, 80 story apartment building and then looking at the surround neighborhood and seeing 10 people living where there should be 2. Off of this observation, I was not surprised to learn of this Thai marriage custom. While the idea of paying the bride’s family might seem archaic to our post modern ideas of gender, the informant relayed to me that this custom was less about the bride and more about the groom. The informant stated that this wasn’t a direct transaction but more so the bride’s family symbolically making the sure the groom is financially stable and able to take care of their daughter.

Chinese Bridal Dowry

Informant: “I have little brother, and my mother always used to tell me that it’d be perfect if I married a Chinese man, because then he’d [his side of the family] would have to pay for the wedding. And if my little brother married an American women, she’d [her side of the family] have to pay for the dowry. So that way we’d be saving money, haha (laughs).”

Me: “Did your husband have to pay for the wedding?”

Informant: “Well, we didn’t have a wedding. (laughs.) So I guess he got off free. He didn’t have to provide Jia Zhuang for me.”

Me: “Do people still do this?”

Informant: “Well, people who are more modern won’t care. After all, most people in China wear white wedding dresses instead of red now that China’s becoming more globalized and what not. Many families share the load of the wedding fee.”

Analysis: 嫁妆, (jia zhuang) literally means “Wedding Decoration”. In the traditional sense, this could include gold jewelry, embellishments, red shoes and bedding, etc. Now, it has expanded to include modern things like appliances.

Through my research I discovered that in China, the bride’s family does pay a dowry but gives it to the bride. Instead, when asking for the bride’s hand, the groom has to give gifts to the family. These gifts, “jia zhuang”, are similar to what typical American couples register for. Bedding, curtains, simple household appliances may all be included. Some of these the family will let the bride keep. It symbolizes respect for the family. What was most important was that it proved that the groom was capable of providing a good life style for the bride.

This goes down to cultural roots and practices such as filial piety, and having respect for one’s elders. When the bride marries the groom, she essentially becomes part of the groom’s family and leaves her own family.

My informant is 53, and currently works as a manager for Dow chemicals. She was born in QingDao China and currently resides in Beijing.