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Culture Shock!

Bruce Marshall was born in England but quickly escaped to Australia. After first visiting Thailand in 1991, he was a regular visitor for 15 years, and finally moved here in 2006. Bruce writes candidly for Naked Farang about his travels, observations and experiences in Thailand. Here he shares some cultural insights.

This is what you want, this is what you get! Not only another line taken from a rock song (thanks John Lydon/Rotten), but a state of mind in Thailand. For me it’s actually the beauty of Thai life, never quite knowing what you will get when asking for something!

Over the last 16 years this has been a daily occurrence for me on every visit, and it happens to just about everybody I know. When meeting tourists, I always mention to them that whenever you ask for something, don’t be surprised if something different arrives. Well, for me it’s not a problem. What’s the use in getting angry? If you feel a little frustrated just smile, after all this is the land of smiles, isn’t it? I have often mentioned this to visitors and it baffles me why we foreigners get so wound up over trivialities. From my observation, Thai people really don’t understand the concept of getting angry. To them when you show anger, it just means you’re a crazy person. So should they change? What do you think? Are they wrong, or is it we who expect too much?

Before I go any further, I am the first to admit that I have my little whines about things in Thailand just like the next guy, but I always re-examine myself, and say to myself “practice what you preach”. I feel if you “go with the flow” your Thai experience will generally be a happy one, if not you will just spend your day feeling frustrated, and what’s the use in that? Just think of it as a cultural difference and a learning experience.

An example of this happened to me many years ago. I was staying at the (notorious?) Malaysia Hotel in Bangkok (boy, have I got a few tales to tell about my experiences there!). I was very under the weather with a nasty flu bug, and was feeling pretty sorry for myself. My partner and a Thai guy I was dating (more about that another time) were playing at being carers. Of course I knew at the time that the guys were dying to unload me and get downstairs to the coffee shop to do some serious drinking. My Thai friend asked, “Can I go and get you some food?’, so I said to him, “Yes, four fish cakes will be fine thanks”. With that, off he headed with my partner Brian to the coffee shop. 30 minutes later, room service came knocking on my door with my meal. I was baffled. Why does it need 3 waiters to carry a small meal? Probably because four fish cakes had now become four trays of fish cakes! It would have taken me a week to eat them all. What to do? I paid for the lot and sent them downstairs and they were handed out to the “bar girls” in the coffee shop. Khun Bruce was very popular when I went down there for dinner the next evening. “You are a nice man ka!”

If I do suffer from frustration here in Thailand, it’s more from the comments I hear from or about foreigners. I will give you a couple of examples. The first I heard was told to me by a very well educated Thai woman. We were discussing the differences in our respective cultures and the clashes that can sometimes happen. She mentioned to me that her boss, who is German, gets very frustrated with life here in Thailand. I was intrigued. “Why?” I asked. “Well,” she said, “he hates the way Thai people are non confrontational. The fact that they are never aggressive and have no aggression frustrates him!” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. She then asked, “Do you feel that way too?” “Well no, not at all.”

I said to her that I thought that one of the reasons we leave our native countries is to escape aggression and violence. Why would we want to have it here? I said to her that if he craves that kind of behaviour maybe he can find it back in his home country. I know there is far too much of it in mine. Maybe he would be happier living in Sydney!

The second most ridiculous complaint I heard came from an expat British guy who has lived in Bangkok for many years. He said to me one day, “You know what frustrates me most about Thailand?” I had no idea so I thought, “Here goes!” He said, “Oh I hate their names, so hard to remember. Why can’t they have names like us? You know like Peter and Susan. That would make life so much easier.” I mentioned to him that their nick names were usually quite easy to remember, but by now he was on a roll. “No,” he said “I mean those stupid surnames with 15 letters in them. Why can’t they have western surnames like ours? It would make life so much easier.” I smiled sweetly and nodded. This mental giant seemed to have forgotten that we are living in Bangkok NOT Basingstoke! I didn’t waste my breath getting into an argument with him; I just walked away thinking, “Is this what Thais put up with off us daily?”

All I can really say to any farangs who want to holiday or reside here is to remember one important thing, and remember it well. We are GUESTS here; this is not our country. It belongs to someone else so respect Thai people and their lifestyles. These are beautiful warm people. Why on earth would we want them to change? Isn’t that the reason most of us are here in the first place?

Bruce Marshall – October, 2007

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28 Nov 2015, 04:10
new years season in thalaind is the high season for hotels at beach resorts, i doubt if your going to have much fun on 4 to 500 dollars for two weeks for two people or maybe more since you say we. if you really plan to enjoy yourself. you can eat cheap at local shops and stay at small guest houses but still it not much to have fun.
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