As a very popular vacation and retirement destination, Thailand has a pretty large expat population. This is especially true in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and many of the coastal and island locations. You can hardly walk down many streets without seeing a Westerner in many locations. Many of the Westerners you see are simply in Thailand on a holiday, but quite a few are expats, living in Thailand full or part time for many years.
One interesting phenomena I’ve noticed in my many trips to Thailand is that the longer Westerners stay the more acclimated they become to Thai culture. Depending on the adaptability and openness of the person this can actually happen quite fast. In every case though, eventually you start to pick up Thai habits and cultural mannerisms. So, my question is “How do you know you are becoming acclimated to Thai culture”?Or put another way, “You know you’ve been in Thailand to long when…
…you start to point at things with your lips.”…you see a rat run out of a restaurant and head inside for dinner anyway.”…you frequently use the phrase “Up to you” when you want to avoid conflict surrounding a delicate question.”…you use the phrase “Up to you” when feeling non-committal about a question.”…you use the phrase “Up to you” when you have no opinion or just can’t be bothered to think about an answer to a given question.”…your current family car is a motor scooter.”…you answer the telephone and even though it’s a wrong number you spend the next 5 minutes chatting with the person on the other end.”…you place your order in a restaurant fully expecting to get something completely different and when you do receive something different you simply eat whatever was served without a word of complaint.”…you are not bothered in the least if there is a lady cleaning the urinal next to the one you’re using.”…you now speak in broken English with your friends and family back home.”…you put ice in your beer without a second thought.”…you now season every food you eat with nam pla and chilis.”…you think that a finger shoved up your nose is no big deal, but cover your mouth when using a toothpick.”…you think it’s perfectly fine to have 4 people, your monthly groceries and 2 chickens all riding on one motor bike at the same time.”…you can’t remember the last time that you wore proper shoes.”…you see a power outlet with open wiring, 6 different appliances plugged in and sparks coming out and you think it’s normal.”…you can remove a rubber band from a plastic bag in 2 seconds without spilling the contents of the bag.”
Obviously the above is but a partial list. I would love to hear your ideas of things that you accept or think are normal in Thailand that would have your head spinning back in your native country. Leave me a comment below with your thoughts.
As a Thai who has spent some time abroad I consider myself able to evaluate whether a farang, (I use this term endearingly) has been properly assimilated into Thai society.
So I thought it might be useful to my many farang friends and readers to devise a simple test to help guide farang who may be wondering whether they have indeed successfully made the seamless transition into becoming a Thai.
Here is my simple test.
- You're a farang if you still comprehend satire and sarcasm and find it amusing. I have written about this in my previous articles, but for the benefit of touchy Thai readers who might find my sweeping generalisations offensive it is certainly not intended as such. Satire and sarcasm can land you in deep water so please exercise it with extreme caution.
- You're a farang if you still can't understand why Thai women marry Thai men. Most farang think Thai men are women-suppressing, self-aggrandising, backward-thinking, chain-smoking, whiskey-guzzling, time-wasting delinquents. Farang simply don't understand why a nice Thai girl would marry someone that is devoid of any endearing or redeeming qualities commonly found in many farang men.
Well, this might be news to you, but getting married in this country is often not about what the woman wants in a partner, but rather what her Thai parents deem acceptable as someone that's going to become their daughter's husband. Many Thai marriages are family affairs.
- You're a farang if you still think it is important to be punctual and get extremely irritated with Thais' nonchalant attitude towards tardiness.
Here is some sound advice when making an appointment. If you've got an appointment with a Thai at 5pm, add another 15 minutes.
If the meeting is on Friday, you'd better add 30 minutes.
If the person you're meeting is a Thai woman, you'd better add an hour. Now you've got the idea.
- You're a farang if you love Max, your golden retriever, more than you love your wife. The English are especially guilty of this.
The love that the English have for their dogs is world-famous. Only a fatal accident or an earthquake above seven on the Richter scale would prevent an Englishman from walking his dog once a day after supper.
Of course, Thais are also extremely fond of their canine friends. That is, until man's best friend _ in a few certain provinces _ provides their master with a cheap alternative to your Christmas turkey.
- You're a farang if you still can't appreciate gossiping, or have yet to master the technique.
Gossiping for Thais is more than pastime. Rumours and innuendos have become one of the foundations of our entire culture. The way that Thais behave socially has simply not kept up with the great strides we have made technologically or economically.
Essentially, we behave as though we are Hobbits of the Shire where everyone else's business is our own. Unfortunately our village mentality leads us to cherry-picking facts to accommodate prejudices. The truth in many cases is buried under a huge pile of putrid lies and comtemptible deceit.
- You're a farang if you still walk a Bangkok zebra crossing with total confidence passing vehicles will screech to a halt and allow you safe passage. Many farang have tried this but unfortunately not many have lived to tell their tale.
- You're a farang if you still think Red Bull has farang origins.
- You're a farang if after a few years of living in Thailand you still prefer using a fork rather than a spoon to eat rice.
- You're a farang if you still expect Thai politicians to resign over offences like committing adultery while in office. The resignation of someone like General Patraeus, a decorated war hero and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency over an admitted affair with his married biographer would be unheard of here.
Recently in the United Kingdom, government Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell had to hand in his resignation to the prime minister because he swore at a Downing Street police officer and called him a "pleb".
A few years before the Mitchell affair, the then-prime minister Gordon Brown of the previous Labour Government resigned as party leader after that little hiccup known as "losing a general election".
In Thailand we prefer our political and military leaders to be unshackled by high ethical and moral standards, unhindered by the demands of personal accountability and unburdened by the sense of shame that would make lesser men breakdown under the glare of public scrutiny.
- And lastly, you're a farang, if after living here for a decade your Thai is still only good enough to order chicken rice and iced tea.
However, for you uninspired farang who find it hard to learn Thai, look no further than His Excellency Mark Kent, the British Ambassador who gave a whole welcome speech in Thai at a lovely gathering held in the Ambassador's Residence which I attended recently.
For you Brits out there, now you know who to call for free Thai lessons!