Sabaidee and the Laos National Identity

In Laos, word Sabaidee is used as a greeting. If you do visit the country, you will hear a lot of it.

Several year ago, during the time when communist states were these evil devils sheltered by the red flag of Soviet Russia, countries like Laos would not make it on an itinerary of many individual travelers. But as mass tourism became more affordable and long haul plane prices more reasonable, coupled by the fall of iron curtain, Laos turned into an attractive destination whose greatest magnet was the fact that it was so untraveled, it offered pioneer visitors a glimpse to the virgin world of what was once considered an off limits country.

Laos experienced massive tourism boom and it would appear as though the government realized both potentials as well as dangers to the national identity the country may experience as a result of this influx of visitors from abroad. I’m certainly not an expert on Lao history, but I think Lao government looked at neighboring countries that experienced comparable tourism boom long before them and looked at how it went there to learn from their mistakes.

If I were to guess, in an effort to prevent their country from turning into another Thailand, Lao government outlawed sexual relationships between Lao citizens and foreign nationals (so Laos doesn’t become a sex tourism destination) and may have launched a campaign targeting locals who live in areas that attract more travellers to help retain national identity before excessive Westernization can destroy it.

This could be the reason why even those few Laotians who do speak English will always greet you with “Sabaidee” instead of by saying “Hello”. Sabaidee was in my face regardless of where I went in Laos and it was so obvious, I couldn’t help but notice that they all acted as though they had gone through some kind of national identity training which taught them to not give in to the pressure from the west, regardless of how much financial profit it may reflect and stick with their own Sabaidee instead of using Hello as a greeting. There, I have you all figured out, Laos 😉

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