What to do if you get into a confrontation, stopped by police, or a dispute in Thailand
Part One: Handling a Bill issue in Pattaya, Thailand
By: Adam Judd
I have previously written about how not to get deported or arrested and how to stay safe on a visit to Pattaya and Thailand. Today, I am going to write about what you do if you are ALREADY in a confrontation, dispute, or have a problem at a business. There is a right way and a wrong way to handle these situations. Feel free to check out my prior blogs under the blog>Adam Judd section on PattayaUnplugged.com.
First of all, if you follow the local, regional, and National Thailand news you will inevitably see a story in which a foreigner gets into trouble, usually ending up in a puddle of blood, chased by a dozen Thais, attacked, etc. I am no proponent whatsoever of violence to resolve a problem but in nearly every situation, and this is coming from five solid years of running a bar, the customer usually handled the situation the wrong way which caused tensions on both sides to rise and melted over.
Thai culture is very different from the majority of Western culture, primarily based on the face. I’m not going to write a ton about that today and will save that for a future article but in simple Western terms, it’s street cred, reputation, or how others see you, especially in public and in front of them. Causing a Thai person to lose face in front of others will usually escalate a situation, regardless of if you are right or wrong. Importantly, in Thailand, slander and libel laws are based on face, not on truth. It doesn’t matter in Thailand if what you are saying is right or wrong, it only matters if you caused the person or business to lose face in front of a third party and made them look bad. This includes social media and has gotten more than one person in trouble here.
So, let’s look at a few common problems and what to do:
1. An issue with your bill
First of all, remember a bill is your responsibility, not the venue’s. In Pattaya, you use a check bin system which will be placed on the counter in front of you. This bill is added each time you order an additional item. I suggest new visitors or those worried about being ripped off check your bill to ensure it’s correct after every order. More often than not I’ve seen someone have one too many and then try to remember if they REALLY bought that tequila shot two hours before. It’s better to keep track of your bill after each round.
Yes, some venues might give you an evil eye for doing this but just give a nice smile and thank them for their service and it won’t be an issue.
Let’s see you check your bill and see a drink that wasn’t yours or a mistake. The BEST way to deal with this is a smile, and call over the same hostess who served you (NOT a different one, this can cause a different staff member to lose face and in many cases, they are afraid of getting in trouble and won’t get involved.) and politely say you must have misspoken or perhaps not been clear and you didn’t order that item, got the wrong item, etc. Smile, be polite and in nearly every situation they will fix it. When they return, thank them for fixing the mistake, again with a smile. You can even go so far as to compliment them to their manager or supervisor for fixing the error promptly. This will usually fix the issue almost every single time.
Let’s say the staff member denies the issue or doesn’t want to fix it. Be calm, be polite, and ask to speak to the manager, mamasan, etc. Reinforce it’s not the fault of the server (even if it was) and tell them you will give them a compliment to the manager. When the manager arrives, compliment them for getting the manager promptly and trying to help you, and then ask to speak to the manager in private. Repeat the same steps as above with the manager, being polite, calm, smiling, and thanking them for fixing the problem in advance.
I can’t make this any more clear…if you lose your cool, refuse to pay, rip up the bill, threaten to storm out without paying, belittle or demean the staff, raise your voice, etc. it will only escalate the situation and potentially make a minor situation a major deal. The steps above will avoid this most of the time. I also strongly advise that you deal with these situations SOBER. If you know you are shitfaced, it’s better to have a sober friend handle it or return when soberer.
Let’s say that the manager and staff member both refuse to correct a mistake and you are certain a mistake was made. (Assuming, once again, you are not very drunk and looking at the situation from a sober, calm perspective.) What are your options here? First off, do NOT threaten to walk out and pay nothing. Do not threaten anything, it will escalate the situation. At this point, if there is a foreign manager (who is usually more used to handling situations and disputes than a Thai) calmly ask for them, with a smile and again make it clear it is not the fault of the staff. Check their Facebook page or website and see if there is a contact for the manager or owner, in some venues, like Windmill, there is.
If they refuse to let you speak to the owner or, as they often say to save face, the owner or manager is not present, you have a few options. You can, of course, simply pay the bill and leave avoiding a larger confrontation. If you have been watching your bill for each drink as advised the amount would likely be no more than a hundred or two hundred baht and not the end of the world. I strongly urge you to take this option and vote with your feet to avoid further drama or issues. If you have been following the steps above the chances of even getting to this level are nearly impossible. However, let’s assume you want to escalate it further. What should you do?
What you should NOT do is blast them all over the internet, social media, Facebook, LINE groups, etc. People often do but technically in Thailand this is slander and libel and occasionally a business that feels it was blasted unfairly will file slander charges….and usually win. Remember, it doesn’t matter if you are right or if your bill turns out wrong. The only thing that would matter is if you made the business look bad in front of third parties.
If the situation gets to this level in Pattaya you can always consider calling the tourist police. You will have to measure yourself if you want to bring them into the situation and if the amount of the bill is worth the time, headache, and potential drama on a vacation but there may be times when it is suggested. If you call, or you ask to speak with the tourist police with the manager together so you can explain both sides, the venue will often drop the issue before to avoid the drama. If THEY call, the tourist police will usually side with the venue. If they call the actual police they will almost always side with the venue. Keep in mind if you take this option returning to the particular venue will almost certainly be a no and regardless of whether you are right or wrong, you will be treated as the enemy at this point. You can also ask if you can come back in the daytime and speak with the owner or manager if they were not available.
If you do so, however, continue to stay calm and polite and either dial 1155 or ask to go with security and a manager to a tourist police booth (At least on Walking Street.) When you meet the tourist police do NOT use personal attacks or insults against the venue, stay calm and polite, and only state the facts of the situation…IE. I ordered one beer, and they came back with five, I did not order those items, I understand it was a simple mistake, but I’d like to correct it. If you go off on a tirade that the staff was rude, or you don’t like the manager, or they are stupid for not understanding you, it’s going to escalate the situation.
Contrary to belief, the tourist police are more helpful than people think. They will speak to both sides involved and make a suggestion to both sides. (They are not judges, they cannot ORDER one side to do something. If you stay calm, and polite, smile, and make it clear you only want to see the situation resolved they are likely to side with you. If you are abrasive, angry, shouting, heavily intoxicated, etc. they are likely to side with the business.) Usually, they will look to meet somewhere in the middle…for instance asking for you to pay half of the bill, etc. It’s up to you if you wish to do this, of course, you may have been given this option already by a manager or a mamasan. It’s also possible the tourist police may ask to see the CCTV at the venue and review the tape to see the error as most venues have CCTV.
If you still refuse at this point then usually, regardless if you are right or wrong, you will be taken to the police station. We strongly suggest avoiding this if possible but want to be clear that the chances of getting to this level are one in a million, especially if you followed the steps above. At the police station, you will file an official report, be given the option to file court charges, etc. For someone on vacation, this is likely not an option. I’m aware of some ex-pats who would take this option, including some reading this article but for most, it’s not the right approach, especially over only a small amount. And, yes, you may end up paying a lot more at the police station. If you are taken in on say, a Friday night, the court is closed until Monday and you will spend a weekend at the police station, regardless if you are right or wrong, for allegedly not paying a bill.
However, keep in mind again these latter paragraphs almost no visitor will ever see, even the highly intoxicated, aggressive foreigners as they will usually agree to pay before this point. If you are polite, and friendly, and do not lose your temper but stay firm, you will usually be able to fix any problem.
For this section, one last suggestion for check bins…If you are especially paranoid you can, of course, pay drink by drink. Some groups, like the US military, require their soldiers on liberty and leave in Pattaya to pay bill by bill now to avoid confrontations. Some venues are even asking for people to pay in advance now also. We also suggest when you pay your bill hold up the bill note if it is 500 or 1000 and CLEARLY state to the service person 500 baht, 1000 baht, etc. I often saw confusion or claims the change was wrong and this can also cause a long drawn-out problem. Remember, you should always be the first person to take responsibility and be proactive in avoiding problems so by clearly stating how much you are giving them you will almost never get a problem.
Some venues will also always state what you are handing them now, to avoid problems.
Some places will even make you sign if you give them 1000 baht, etc.
Finally, let’s say after all this…or somewhere in the process…you find out you are wrong. It happens. It’s happened to me. Let’s say you thought you gave them a 1000 and it was a 100 baht bill after all. Or you did order that extra shot and forgot. Don’t get angry or upset, we don’t operate on face as much in the West….simply admit your mistake, be calm and friendly, and thank the business for taking the time to look into it. They may still be a bit grumpy but although Thais won’t apologize much they WILL accept a genuine one, especially if you stay calm and friendly.
Stay tuned for Part Two in the near future…What to do if you are in a nightclub or bar raid and questioned by police