“Dowry” or “Bride Price”? What’s the difference?
Let me help you clear up any confusion or misperceptions about the Thai tradition of paying a “bride price” when considering marriage to your Thai lady.
A “dowry” is the traditional collection of money, goods, and property that a woman brings into a marriage. Historians think this custom, which dates back many thousands of years, might have served a few purposes.
First, it was thought to protect the woman, because in many ancient cultures, women were often ill-treated, widowed, or abandoned. The collection of money, goods and property she brought into the marriage helped to provide for her and her children if anything happened to her husband. Many societies considered the dowry as an early payment of a woman’s inheritance from her own family, and the money and property was only inheritable by her children, not any children her husband may have fathered with other women. If the couple died without having had any children, the property was returned to the wife’s family.
Second, the dowry a bride brought to the marriage was a way to help the husband with “seed money” to help establish a household and provide for his family.
Third, a dowry helped fulfill political ambitions and cement alliances. In medieval Europe, for example, it wasn’t uncommon for marriages to be arranged based on what property the woman could bring under the control of her husband’s family.
Contrast this idea of a “dowry” with a “bride price” – the payment a man makes to a woman’s family in exchange for their permission to marry.
The Bride Price
The “bride price”( สินสอด, pronounced[sĭn sòt])you’ve no doubt heard of in Thailand is a payment that you will be expected to give to your Thai lady’s parents when you announce your engagement. In very basic terms, you will be expected to pay for the financial loss of your bride’s labor and fertility within her family.Thais believe that the “bride price” is a way for a man to demonstrate to a woman’s family that he has the means and the willingness to support her – and possibly her family. It’s also a tangible way for the man to demonstrate his love, affection, and financial standing…as well as to demonstrate publicly the whole notion of “face” or honor that helps elevate the social standing of the bride’s family.
This custom is also thousands of years old, practiced all over the world, and is cited in the Bible, the Koran, and the Torah. While some cultures have abandoned the custom, thinking of it as literally “selling” a woman, Thai families all maintain it to one degree or another.
Traditionally, the bride price is paid to the woman’s family during the engagement ceremony. It consists of three elements: cash, Thai gold (96.5% pure), and more recently, a diamond ring (a tradition imported from the West). In modern times, the amount can range from nothing more than an engagement ring for the bride to many thousands of dollars (millions of Thai baht). Let me give you some examples about how the bride price is handled in modern Thailand.
Should You Pay? And if so, How Much?
How much gold? How much cash? The answer is not an easy one. There are no etiquette guides for brides and grooms like there are in the West. In the U.S., for example, a traditional wedding guide will tell you that a good rule of thumb is to pay up to 3 months’ salary for the diamond ring. But in Thailand there is no such rule of thumb.
If you are planning to marry a young, well-educated, beautiful woman of high social standing, you can expect to pay a much higher bride price. If your Thai lady is older, has been previously married, has children from another man, or has a reputation for being a “loose” woman, the expected price will be lower.
For example, a typical middle-class, university-educated Thai woman can usually command a bride price of between 100,000 and 300,000 baht. The price might be higher for a woman of a prominent family – a million baht or more is not unheard of. But for an uneducated village girl, a divorcee, or a woman with a loose reputation, bride prices well below 100,000 baht are more appropriate.Take into account your fiancée’s status. Is she young? Well-educated? Has she been married before? Divorced? Widowed? Does she have children? Has she gone with many men before? All those factors come into play when determining the amount to pay.
You will want to offer enough to make a statement about her worth, your worth, and her family’s standing in the community, but you don’t want to be overly extravagant or worse – too cheap! And for sure, you don’t want to be taken advantage of or cause her or her family to “lose face.”
Negotiating the Bride Price, or Sin Sot.
In a traditional Thai-to-Thai engagement, the bride price is usually negotiated between the bride’s family and the groom’s family, with her grandmother or significant older female relative and the groom’s closest brother or best friend as the chief negotiators. That works well, as the families of bride and groom in all probability know each other, and may have even arranged the match. In your case, as a Westerner marrying a Thai, you may not be able to negotiate that way.
If you are lucky enough to have a good, well-respected male Thai friend who can negotiate on your behalf, you could choose to have him negotiate for you. But many Western men who marry Thai women have relied on their future bride to handle the negotiations with her family herself.
In the last article, I shared with you some of the secrets of a successful, long-term relationship – and specifically mentioned gentle direct communication and compassion as critical to a lasting relationship. I bring that up here to remind you that the bride price may be a matter of honor for your bride-to-be, so you must remember to communicate clearly, directly, and gently about what your financial limits are.
Once you have made it clear to your Thai woman what your limits are, you will have to trust her to communicate your offer to her family and communicate with you what the “ritual” will be, so that everybody knows exactly what to expect. As Thailand is becoming more modern and westernized, paying the bride price may be nothing more than a ritual performed at the engagement ceremony – you give your fiancée a diamond ring and give her family cash or gold publicly at the engagement ceremony, and her parents return the bride price to you as a wedding gift. Each family will behave differently, but if your Thai partner can explain to you what to expect, you won’t be taken by surprise.
It may seem strange to you, this custom of “bride price,” but think about it…you are marrying into the Thai culture when you marry your Thai lady. It honors her, her family, and her culture to respect her traditions!
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