As you probably all know by now, Thailand is quite different from the West. There are small as well as major obstacles to overcome if one wants to fit in.
Some foreigners – or farang, to use their Thai pet name - are more than willing to adjust to the Thai way of living and doing things, whereas others try as hard as they can not to become integrated (or ‘assimilated’).
Lately though, I have started to realise that a considerable part of the Western community in Thailand thrives on complaining and grumbling about the way things are done in the Kingdom.
Is their moaning justified? Do expats have a right to criticise everything they don’t like about Thailand? Do they have any rights at all?
Now let me tell you first that in my opinion the expat community in Bangkok is not exactly a jolly bunch. It’s definitely not a tightly knit group where you can make friends or socialise easily.
A lot has been written about this subject on various Internet websites, and most people tend to agree that there is a kind of ‘every man for himself’ attitude in the city. Some claim this isn’t a local phenomenon, but rather a worldwide one.
I don’t go out very often and I certainly don’t try to socialise wherever I go, but when I do see the occasional farang - even out in the suburbs where I live - and I give him a smile or a nod, I often get an icy or puzzled stare in return. It’s as if people get suspicious when someone says hello to them.
When I get to the stage where communication takes place, with either colleagues or strangers, the conversation is more often than not about what they don’t like about living and working here, rather than the reasons they are here for. Let me briefly go into to a few classics.
“It’s (four-letter word) hot today.”
What did you expect? Thailand isn’t far from the Equator and has a tropical climate with three seasons (two in the South): the cool season, the rainy season and the hot season. Some refer to them as hot, hotter, hottest.
I’m sure it was hot the first time you came here, so why complain about it now whenever you get the chance? Although I thoroughly dislike air-conditioning, there is a lot of it around. Some people have actually told me they would die without it. Quite pathetic, isn’t it?
What about the few billion people who live in the tropics and have to do without? By the way, according to the season, the topic can change from hot to rainy.
“The traffic is horrible.”
I can’t deny that the traffic usually is terrible in the city centre. On the other hand, I’m sure it’s quite horrible in every major city I know, be it Asian or Western.
Many people still prefer the convenience of driving their cars everywhere they go and apparently don’t mind being stuck in a traffic jam. I guess that both the quality of public transport and the level of oil prices are still not high enough to deter people from using their own vehicles.
I know that the weather and the traffic are small talk topics all over the world, but it seems that here, people will only talk about it if they’re bad. I’ve never heard anyone say that it was a nice day and that there wasn’t a lot of traffic.
Anyway, the situation isn’t about to change overnight, so you might as well get used to it.
“Thais are so stupid.”
Thais are different from Westerners, that’s for sure. Are they stupid? According to people educated in a Western society, they might seem to have a very strange way of doing things. They think differently, act differently, have other ideas and values, have a different culture.
The Thai way of reasoning does indeed often defy Western logic. Their concepts like for example ‘mai pen rai’, ‘kreng jai’, ‘sanuk’, and ‘losing face’ are virtually unheard of in Western cultures. Calling a whole population retarded because of their non-conformity to Western culture seems a bit bigoted and prejudiced to me though.
As for the students, it’s a given that their level of English is way below the international average. I wouldn’t attribute these abysmal capabilities solely to a lack of brainpower though. It seems to me that they are rather the result of poorly designed curriculums, where emphasis has been placed for years on just one skill (mastering grammar).
Furthermore, the fact that student cannot fail exams doesn’t contribute to a learning culture (it really makes you wonder why there are exams at all).
Last but not least, in Thai society everything that is done has to be ‘sanuk’ (fun). Although learning can be fun, if one wants to become fluent in English they will have to put in a considerable effort. Also, both students and policy-makers should start to realise that learning a language cannot be done in a few weeks or even months. It’s a process that takes years.
“Thai girls only want your money.”
Thai-farang relationships have been a hotly discussed item for many years. Do these nice, lovely, dark-skinned ladies only want a Western husband because of their money? Does love still play a part in these relationships? Why do they often end in misery?
I’m sure a good number of Thai women do love their Western partner. They are not just in it for the money, although it is undeniable that money and support – not just for the wife, but also for her parents and family – are a much bigger issue than in any farang-farang relationship. Let’s face it, most mixed relationships are combinations of Western haves and Thai have-nots.
In Asian culture and in Buddhist religion, taking care of the family is something that is ingrained in most people. I suppose a large number of farangs just don’t realise what to expect from a relationship and how to behave in a Thai way. Willingness to adapt yourself to the Thai way of life is essential, because Thais will have a fairly hard time adapting themselves to Western culture.
I’m also sure that a good number of Thai girls are in the business for the money and the money only. The same can be said of their greedy friends and parents. Does this make them all bad? I think that depends on your expectations.
Do you really think a gorgeous 25-year old chooses an ageing, overweight, balding farang as a boyfriend because he is such a stud or good conversationalist? Get real.
“I’m fed up with the food.”
“It’s too spicy, it’s always the same, I don’t like it anymore, I need my pot roast, KFC and hamburgers.” Well, I’ve got news for you. The food is just the same as the first day you set foot here.
If you liked it then, why don’t you like it now? Maybe because you were on holiday, and now you’ve realised that eating Thai food every day isn’t your cup of tea after all.
Don’t forget that Thai cuisine is considered one of the best and most versatile in the world. If you’re eating more farang food than Thai food and spend more time in fast food restaurants or British pubs, maybe you should ask yourself why you are living in Thailand.
These above-mentioned negative statements are usually made by foreigners living in Thailand. I’ve hardly ever heard a tourist utter the same complaints. So does the Thai way of life really gets to you when you’ve lived here for a longer time? I guess it does. On the other hand, it is human nature to emphasise negative rather than positive experiences.
Now what can we do about these negatives feelings many farangs seem to have? I don’t have all the answers, but I’ll nevertheless give a few tips.
• Why not stop eating for a few days? I reckon most farangs have enough stored body fat to survive for a few days. Then you might start to appreciate the food again.
• Save some energy and turn of the air-conditioning once in a while. Buy a fan. Most people don’t die from a bit of heat. Take things easy. Don’t rush around. If you often find yourself drenched in sweat going from one place to another, you’re schedule is probably too busy.
• Don’t try to be in charge of everything, esp. when dealing with Thais. Let them do their thing. If you want to have your say all the time, you’ll just get frustrated and miserable.
• Don’t be too gullible. If you believe a stunning girl who professes her eternal love for you after one steamy night of paid entertainment, you deserve to be taken for a ride.
• If you ever buy property or wheels, be mentally prepared not to see that money ever again if things turn sour.
• Take a break. Go on holiday inside or outside of Thailand and relax. If you want to do so and can afford it, visit your home country and ask yourself if you’d prefer to live there. If so, do yourself a favour and get out of Thailand. If not, you might appreciate it here a bit more.
Finally, remember that there is the farang-side of the coin, which isn’t always flattering either. The way some farangs behave might give Thais the idea that they are just a bunch of surly, rude people with a rather poor personal hygiene. They are confrontational cheapskates who dress ridiculously and don’t know jack shit about Thai culture.
I know this is a stereotype, but it is sometimes true.
Most of us are here to stay. Maybe not indefinitely, but at least for quite a long time. We’re immigrants, even if our visas say non-immigrant. Let’s make the best of it.
Recently, someone pointed out in a letter to the editor in the Bangkok Post that we are just guests in the Kingdom and should therefore behave as such. I only agree partly with that statement. A lot of us have a job. If it’s not a well-paid expat or embassy job, we’re English teachers.
Why are we here? Because we want too, but also because we are in demand. Thailand actually needs us. If we work here legally and pay taxes, we should at least have some basic rights like immigrants in the West have and not live in fear of being denied a visa renewal at the discretion of the Thai government.
We don’t deserve to be treated as a stray dog you take into your house and kick out when you’re fed up with it. We deserve some respect. Fortunately, we often get it.
I hope I didn’t come across as a whinging farang myself.