Foreigner moans and groans
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.
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I am Thai and I love this article so much.
Reading it for the 3rd time this year. Hahaha
By ค่อม, Bangkok, Thailand (10th August 2020)
I get really tired of foreigners who constantly come out with the line "This is Thailand, if you don't like it then stay away".
Thailand earns a lot of money from tourism, and are now losing ground to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, so wouldn't it be better to educate the Thais just a little bit rather than simply accepting the kind of behaviour that ensures many tourists will only visit once?
How can any Thai think it reasonable behaviour to ride a motorbike at speed along a sidewalk, across a pedestrianised zone, or the beach promenade (right opposite the Police station) when there are tourists with babies in pushchairs, elderly people, disabled people, children etc. Do they honestly not realise how bad they make their country look? Pattaya's recent attempt to make the resort 'family friendly' will never, ever succeed all the time they allow their citizens to act like complete imbeciles.
Thailand is a great country and has many good things going for it..great food, some beautiful scenery, very good transport, thousands of great hotels and resorts etc. etc. but they really should clamp down on the idiots who are destroying things for them on a daily basis.
By John, Bangkok (14th December 2019)
Well thought through
By Martin, Zürich (9th July 2018)
Well, the Thai Ministry bureaucracy is completely stupid. For example, my Albanian fiancee, who speaks six languages and holds a Masters in English Language and Literature, has to jump through an insane number of hoops to get her non-B and work permit for a job she is way overqualified for. Included in this list of nonsense is a trip to Beijing for a stamp from her closest embassy, followed by a trip to the Thai embassy in Beijing for a stamp of her stamp (because it's no problem to bop on over to Beijing); a TOEIC test (see previous remark about her degree); and all the other nonsense that comes with doing a job that most Thais can't do and claim they want done.
She is not spoiled, and not entitled, but is doing everything they ask of her at great time and expense (and I still feel like the Thai embassy is going to screw this one up).
I am getting fed up with this country, and its people's "cannot" attitude.
By Steve, Bangkok (14th October 2017)
@Joe- Sir I'm Thai and I would like to say " You took the words right out my mouth Sir". I totaly agree, and in fact all you have mentioned above helps makes the country worst, like you said thais kinda just "blaket the problem".
P.S. the artical says that "traffic is bad everywhere..." well thailand has one of the worst traffic in 2016. Out of 1064 cities thailand is ranked 12th in worst traffic. So..? Can you try to do abit more research before writing an artical to win the support of ignorant thais, but you are making it worst by licking them. and dont let me start on education, how thais lack critical thinking there for creating this so called eastern logic crap!
2016 consider this as an update from 2017
By Peter Tabyang, thailand bangkok (7th May 2017)
I like several ideas in your article that are totally true.
There is only one thing to add.
People have been talking about Thais' sense of beauty and Farangs' sense of beauty. (Thais like white skin but Farangs preger dark skin.) It is so true that we should not generalize people.
However, generalization is useful at a particular level. Majority of dark skin girls that Farangs like are from lower middle class or farmers who are not financially well being.
To choose a partner, regardless of nationalities, shouldn't we pick the person from their inner attitude and lifestyle that we get along, not the beauty of skin: dark or white. If a person choose to come to the conclusion too early about another person. What can he complain? People are different ranging from -1,000,000 to million points. Each Thai girl is also different. There are a lot of educated women who get good pay and make themselves good living don't need farangs'money. And their parents have enough money to support themselves. Your guys just rarely reach those girls. Don't you wonder why?
By Kasamon, Bangkok (10th December 2015)
P.S. If you live in a foreign country in most cases you have to go with the flow, but at the same time stick up for yourself if you are wronged. Cheers, Not farang.
By Apiwat, Khon Kaen (27th November 2015)
This was an interesting read, some issues spot-on, others not. I live in Thailand permanently and have been here for over a year. My only criticism is the use of the term, 'farang'. If the Lonely Planet Guide is true then it is the Thai term for 'French'. To me that is an insult, in Thai "mark yarp" - very rude. I wish people would stop using it. I am an Australian, Westerner, white fella...not French!!
By Apiwat, Khon Kaen (27th November 2015)
After being in Asia for almost two years and in the USA for the previous 35, it's clear to me that us Westerners are huuuuuge complainers by nature. Let's face it, we have it EASY, especially when you compare our quality of life to those that reside in South East Asia and China and we get used to that.
You go to the Philippines and you hear the old men complaining that women cost $22, when they used to only cost $10. In Thailand, its Thai women are mercenary, all they care about is money.
Are a lot of Thai women only concerned about money? Yeah, but so are women in the West! At least Thai women give you something in RETURN. You give American girl a million dollars in one-dollar bills she'll look at you with a straight face and complain she didn't get it in 100's!
Then you have the work place. Yes there have been times where I am scratching my head trying to make sense of a decision that was made, but I just go with it. It's not my job to change the way they do things in Thailand. I don't complain or make a fuss over it....as long as you pay me on time, we're cool. I collect my paycheck (on the 10th) and enjoy life in my free time on a grander scale than I ever could in US. Lastly, let's not forget that we often have had to put up with a lot of unpleasantries in the workplace in the West as well.......and yes we complain about that too!
You wanna complain, try living in China!
By Brockstar, Shenzhen (24th November 2015)
A very conceited and stuck up article. The author confesses that he doesn't get out much and it certainly comes across in his writing style. It's time he took off the rose tinted glasses.
By outbound, coming to a khlong near you (24th November 2015)
Joe- you said practically everything I wanted to say. An even-handed response to an article which seems to say, "if you aren't as "Thai" as I am, you should go home".
By jbkk, bkk (24th November 2015)
I logged on to ajarn.com to be faced with this as the first link in the immediate display, and after reading it, I just couldn’t resist the need to reply. This is going to be lengthy, so for those people who don’t like walls-o-text, I suggest you save yourself the time and read another post.
After reading the whole document and I will come back to this, it seems you have some disdain for those who generalise about Thai people. Yet right off the bat you claim a small proportion of foreigners here are able to fit in but yet a large proportion just don’t, or won’t.
That, especially based on what you yourself say is your ‘own’ opinion, followed by ‘I don’t go out very often and I certainly don’t try to socialise,’ seems to somewhat limit your basis for reasoning like this, and sort of puts you in the vice versa position of generalising about ‘farang.’
Foreigners don’t all have this Butlins style attitude of huge cheesy grins or a small town American attitude of smiling to everyone including next doors dog with a tip of the hat and a morning greeting.
You seem to overlook at some cultures aren’t about smiles from a distance, you forget some people may just be surprised that you smile at them, or spend that brief moment thinking ‘Wait a sec, do I know him?’ or indeed, just not be in the mood, that is of course if they actually did see you smile at them, and not just a brief glance where it looked like you were engaged with each other but actually they were staring into space or at something behind you.
Also, the following paragraph you talk about conversation starters. Your misunderstanding of people and basic conversation shines blindingly here. What do English people do in England when they meet new people in a shop, in a queue, or just at a bus stop? ‘It’s not half cold today.’
That’s what we do, that’s how we start conversations, by finding things that we equally as foreigners may have in common. If you are working in Thailand, as I do, and teach especially, the complaining about the way things are run here may hold some healing and remedying effects that in your haste you may overlook.
When you are new to the country or even after a year here and things aren’t going well at work in a new environment, it helps to talk about these things as it 1. May help people bond, 2. Brings up a common conversation point, and 3. Offer a chance for either party to understand the country more.
How? By realising one is not alone, and by realising the foreign objection to some of these ‘stupid’ or ‘intolerable’ things isn’t just one nit-picking, but the way that this country operates on many levels.
When a foreigner like myself feels singled out, or bullied, or abused for trying to do something which is right, and is pushed aside in order for something quite to the contrary to be carried out, it makes us think that we are the problem.
When you realise you aren’t alone, you get to understand this is the modus operandi and you can learn to at least fit yourself around it, which is ironic considering your claim that it is just for the sake of complaining that foreigners do ‘whinge’.
As for the traffic, I think you have picked a rather dull point to discuss, as this doesn’t actually support what you are trying to achieve with your message, instead it makes it seem like you are just having a stab at foreigners.
Everyone complains about traffic, everywhere. From London to Athens, Tokyo to New York, Beijing to Bangkok, but you are using this as an example of what ‘foreigners complain about’? Seriously?
On your point of ‘Thais are so stupid,’ yes, they are. And guess what, English people like me are also stupid, you are stupid, and, well, people are stupid.
But in which sense do you mean stupid, if you mean uneducated then the way people do something may not be appropriate, without education on the clear, methodical way to carry out tasks or instructions, with abstract thought and considering consequences, then this is sort of more that they are ignorant – ignorant to the correct way to do things.
If you mean stupid as in stupid behaviour then yes, I can say Thai people in particular are stupid. And I can give you an example, with a sample size of at LEAST 300 people, just on one ride on Rama 4, and up to Victory Monument. Songkran.
Throwing dishes of cold water into the faces of motorcyclists, many motorcyclists of which I have seen with passengers on their bikes including little babies.
I was victim to this travelling with my friend on the back of my motorbike and if you can think of any other way to describe hurling pales and dishes of water into the eyes of motorists travelling 80km/h +, I eagerly await it. And we could get into the whole ‘So just stay home…’ but remember, we are talking about stupidity and stupid behaviour.
If you mean the systems here, are they stupid? Education, largely, yes. It is almost like one huge farce, a long running comedy sketch if you like,
‘Why is that stupid?’ I hear you ask, well, it’s not. It is actually a good thing. The stupidity comes after, where, after copying or not, kids still fail, like a previous student of mine. First exam attempt 0%. Second attempt 2%. Third attempt 1%. Then..
..wait for it…… (and remember kids are not allowed to cheat because copying is wrong).. BOOM!
They are stamped with 50% and passed anyway. Teachers are not allowed to ruin a child’s education by overlooking cheating, no no, this is Thailand, ruining kids is the schools job.
Now, does that sound sensible?
I would like to remind you also that culture is a sort of an in country practice among other people, it doesn’t automatically include foreigners just because we are visiting here.
I myself have received flak for disapproving of some practices, stupid practices and prohibitions like the denial of decent education in biology for a start, and in turn been told that ‘this is Thai culture.’
It is not something I have to join in with, so long as I observe it, don’t interfere with it, and don’t tell Thai people how to behave in their own country. I wouldn’t do this. But I would consider denying children a part of their natural and life science education not only as stupid, but as a retarding factor contrary to the point of enlightening and educating the populous.
One thing I really resent reading in your post is your nonsensical use of the words ‘Western logic.’
Logic is logic, it isn’t western or eastern, northern or southern, it may have emerged from Ancient Greece, but is a disciplined order of thought, put better in it’s definition: ‘reasoning conducted or assessed according to strict principles of validity.’ It doesn’t ‘belong’, but is rather adopted, and when something is stupid it’s because the way in which the action is carried out is contrary to the way it should be, or detrimental to the very point it is initiated.
Common sense is largely amiss in Thailand, and this most definitely, if it cannot be referred to as stupid, is not sensible, or reasonable.
I could move on to things like the evils of Buddhism, or the irony of the Lord Buddha’s precepts and the whole don’t drink or kill, or lie or steal, when switching on the news or looking out the window at this Great Buddhist Nation.
We will leave those insensibilities for another time.
The food is too spicy is a matter of observable fact, and a matter of taste. Either way we are more than within our rights to dislike food that is too ‘hot’.
Spicy food causes pain receptors to run wild, and while I like food like som tum a bit spicy, I have often had to almost physically restrain the vendor who was putting enough chilis in her pestil and mortar that the finished product would be indistinguishable from a plate of napalm.
People get tired of eating the same things all the time.
And? It’s the same for me here. Tom yum kung, kaprao, jok, the same in England, pie and chips, beans on toast, it’s the human condition to enjoy the variety of flavours and the need to break out of the norm, it doesn’t make foreigners better or worse than anyone else.
And when you say Thai cuisine is some of the finest in the world. Erm, another generalism. I can say, no it’s not. Not for everyone. The enjoyment of food again, is a subjective opinion which changes from person to person.
And fast food and British pubs? Erm, what? Are you saying that when the opportunity is there, one must ignore the alternatives and act on the understanding that one is ‘obliged’ to dine on Thai food? I should hope not, and is choosing or enjoying British food or fast food a reason to leave Thailand? (Implying that eating Thai food is a necessity or a reason to stay.)
Finally, what can I say about ‘Thai girls want money’?
I simply point to Pattaya. I point to the prostitutes, the thousands of women here who simply choose the seductive vampiric and easy road route of playing men in order for money, while they have their Thai husband on the side.
I am always interested in the thinking of those people who say ‘Yes but it’s not EVERY Thai girl, or, yes but not ALL muslims are bad (when discussing religion.)’
So then I have a question, how many Thai girls must be in the game for foreigners money before your lordship, or anyone else permits us to make the statement Thai girls just want money? When we say it of COURSE we don’t mean all Thai girls.
But when you say ‘It’s not all,’ all you do is sort of blanket the problem at the same time as you state the obvious.
By Joe, Bangkok (23rd November 2015)
What expats and English teachers say about Thailand is irrelevant. I've been here for donkey's years and I can count on one FINGER the amount of these social imbeciles who I have had any respect for. Even the so called success stories are conmen, spivs and frauds.
That's not to say I don't like them. Their circus acts are entertaining in a sinister way and I like reading about them in the papers.
It's safe to say I don't have any friends! Ha ha!
By Mark Newman, Thailand (23rd November 2015)