Let’s talk Thaiisms. Every culture has it’s quirks and Thailand is no exception. Here is an assortment of random stuff that you probably wouldn’t figure out without living here.
- Really weird dogs. In America, you might see a stray dog once in a while. If you live in New Mexico, possibly more than once in a while (if you have to carry rocks when you go for a walk, you’ll be well prepared for Thailand). Here, there are dogs EVERYWHERE. Literally. When you drive down the street for five minutes you will encounter at least five or six dogs. If it’s night time, they will often be lying down in the middle of the road. There will be dogs fighting next to the restaurant where you’re eating outdoors. Dogs walking the grounds of your school. Dogs in the cafeteria. Dogs ambling along the hallways. Dogs limping. Dogs mating next to famous statues in the middle of the city. There’s a very different culture associated with them in Thailand because they aren’t all pets as in America. They often carry diseases, and are often dangerous. You don’t want to walk up and pet them. To anyone who hasn’t experienced Thai dogs, this will sound mean…but honestly…they’re gross. They all have scabby, nasty looking skin with hair falling out, they’re aggressive, and they aren’t neutered. The latter is something that I never realized made a difference until I came here, but trust me, it does. There are a lot of unpleasant visuals that I don’t want to describe in detail associated with unneutered dogs. Let’s leave it at that.
- Teachers vs. Students. In Thailand, the teacher may arrive late to class, or not arrive at all. Students are still expected to be on time. In addition, there are far fewer two way conversations between Thai students and teachers. You don’t question the teacher. When the teacher is wrong, it takes a lot of subtlety to point it out without being offensive.
- Zero Freedom. This will depend heavily on your host community and host family. However, for me, freedom is a thing of the past. Thai students don’t do social things anyway, but I really can only go places accompanied by adults, and I don’t do much. That being said, freedom increases the more Thai you learn and the more you are able to show your host family that you’re able to take care of yourself. Thai people are especially protective of girls. In fact, they will probably treat you like a small child. My host family and advisor frequently try to hold my hand when I cross the street, and physically guide me to walk in the right direction.
- Concepts of touch. Touch is weird in Thailand. PDA is a complete social taboo, but platonic contact is frequent. The ways that Thai students show friendship would probably appear to be sexual in America. A friend of the same gender might wrap their arms around your waist while standing or sitting behind you, randomly start playing with your hair, smack your butt, put their hand on your leg, etc. This is equally applicable for both genders, although only between friends of the same gender. Thai students aren’t concerned with being perceived as gay. In fact, this is a culture that is very accepting of lesbian, gay, and transgender people. That being said, their acceptance is within a fairly restrictive context in terms of gender roles; a gay man will be expected to be very effeminate, a lesbian will be expected to be very butch, etc.
- Direct vs. Indirect. It’s not like there’s NO direct communication in Thailand. It’s just in different areas. For example, it is totally acceptable to call someone fat, both to their face and behind their back. I’ve been called fat countless times. It is not viewed as an insult, just an observation. However, it also isn’t a compliment, because Thai women in particular aspire to be very thin, so it can be pretty hurtful until you get used to it. It’s also ok to ask about age, relationship status, point out various flaws in your appearance, and so on. Areas that aren’t acceptable to talk about are politics, and negative statements about the king, teachers, parents, etc. You might have these conversations with friends who speak good English, but not with the average Thai person.
- The quest for toilet paper. It doesn’t really exist here. You might find some at a nice hotel, or at the mall. Otherwise you’re sol. Instead, they use sprayer things. I will include a toilet pic when I do a post about a day in my life, and the sprayer will make sense.
- MEAT. Every single meal includes meat. In fact, it is the focus of just about every meal. I have eaten meat at least twice a day every day since coming to Thailand. I’m sure it’s possible to be vegetarian, but I don’t know how. People tend to have the misconception that Thai food is healthy. It’s very much a misconception. In fact, Thai people in general don’t really care too much about healthy vs. unhealthy food. Breakfast is usually meat and white rice. Lunch and dinner are some variation on the same them. Noodles or rice with meat of some kind. Vegetation is often just some bean sprouts mixed into your food. They don’t eat salad, and real Pad Thai, delicious as it is, is loaded with fried pork skin and peanuts, not veggies.