When you are living in a country that is different than the one you were raised in, you can’t help but compare the two. The following are 10 observations I’ve made as an expat living in Thailand.
1. Noise levels
- Noise levels on public transportation and public areas. When you take public transportation, even in a huge city like Bangkok, people are very respectful of others and generally talk quietly. Most of the time, even the noise level of people talking in a packed mall isn’t very loud. It’s very easy to spot Americans in these areas because they are generally talking louder than the people they are around. While I’m sure there are times I’ve been this person, now that I’m used to it, I feel embarrassed by them.
2. Walking speed
- Walking speed. In most parts of America, people are in a hurry and walk pretty fast. Here, in shopping areas, people tend to stroll more taking pictures and just taking their time. Even people walking down the street do so at a slower pace! I’ve found that my gait has slowed and that I take my time a little more now that I’m an expat living here.
- R-E-S-P-E-C-T. This is something so different from our Western culture. In Asian cultures respect is huge! Children are taught to respect their elders from a very young age and not just elders, but anyone older than them. When we were teaching English, our students showed us so much respect. They know that this is what is expected of students. For teacher day in Thailand, children literally bow down before their teachers during a special ceremony. Sadly, I don’t think I need to spell out how different this is to American culture.
- Going out to eat with friends or family. The Thai way of going out to eat is each person ordering food to share. Usually, all dishes are kept in the middle of the table and one uses their spoon to get just a few bites on their plate. I love this! Even the way Thai’s eat is communal!
- How people greet one another. We all do this; we say, “Hey, how’s it going?” in our interactions with strangers throughout the day. Not always asking because we want to know, but because it’s just a greeting. Here, people ask, “Have you eaten yet?”. Or, sometimes they will start with, “Where are you going?” or “Where have you been?” When we first moved here, we didn’t understand this. Every time we would leave our house and walk down our street to catch a taxi, we would have at least 3 or 4 neighbors ask us where we were going. Being from the U.S., we wondered why they cared. We would give them detailed answers in broken Thai not realizing they were just being polite. Later, we learned that those are just common Thai greetings.
- Driving. This is one that still confuses us! Driving here is just too chaotic to explain. I’m not even sure why they bother painting lines on the road or having speed limits as it doesn’t seem to matter how fast or slow you drive.
7. Public restrooms
- Public restrooms. So this one is a little interesting. There are some places you visit that it’s hard to find a public restroom, and once you do, you wonder if it’s ever even been cleaned. Then sometimes, the restrooms are so clean. The mall restrooms are very nice here and they hire someone to constantly clean each restroom throughout the day.
8. Street food
- Street food. This one can scare tourists at first since it looks like the food is probably unsafe to eat. However, we have found that sometimes food is fresher from the street vendors than some restaurants!
- Appearance. Thai people place a high priority on appearance. Now if you are reading this as a westerner, you could misinterpret what I just wrote to mean that they are all about appearance and self-centered. This is NOT true. I simply mean that looking respectable still plays a huge roll in society—kind of like the good old days in the U.S. Now, like with anything, this can be taken too far. I’m not looking for a debate. I’m just commenting on the good parts of this idea. Most companies have uniforms for their workers so the workers end up looking more professional than what you would see in the U.S. Also, when people are out running errands and going to the mall, they don’t just throw on workout out clothes.
- Contentment. There is a phrase that the Thai people say which translate to, “Enough to eat, enough to live.” It’s the idea that if they have food then they have enough. The idea that one doesn’t have to have the best home, car, phone, etc… This is very different from the materialism found in America. Again, we can’t say all Americans are materialistic and Thais aren’t, but this is generally how people operate. This is especially true of the older generations who grew up in a lot harder times.
If you made it to the end, those are some of my observations. One of the reasons I love traveling to other countries is learning their culture and what they value. I think we can learn a lot from each other if we take the time to do so!
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