Before coming to Thailand, we were required to learn about the politics, economy, and culture for our International Business 365 class. What I learned was very helpful in going about my daily life in Bangkok, and it helped me sort through some of the culture shock. But as I quickly learned, reading about a culture is nothing as compared to living in it.
Wat Phanan Choeng in Ayutthaya. Buddhism is the most practiced religion in Thailand
A spirit house found near many houses and businesses in southeast Asia. It houses spirits that could be troublesome to owners if not appeased
In Thailand, they are very loyal to the king and the royal family. I learned quickly about this loyalty on the cab ride to my apartment from the airport on my first day here. There were huge banners and billboards in memory of the passing of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
They also have Lèse-majesté which is the crime of insulting a monarch or ruler. In addition, the national anthem is played in public spaces and over the radio and TV twice a day, and everyone is required to stand for attention, no matter where you are. Having never lived in an environment like this, it was quite fascinating.
A banner for King Bhumibol Adulyadej found on campus
The new King, King Maha Vajiralongkorn as seen on campus
Language is a huge part of a country’s culture as well. I realized lately that a lot of frustration and arguments that may happen between Thai people and expats/tourists is due to the language barrier. I have experienced this, especially when I need something and no one can help me or understand me. Neither of us are in the wrong, we just have no way of communicating with each other. Pairing this with the cultural norm of ‘saving face’ and not arguing with people has led to some frustrating encounters. I quickly developed an ‘everyone’s out to get you’ mentality after a few instances of being taken advantage of as a tourist (and many a rip-off cab ride).
A Thai newspaper
But now as I am acknowledging this language barrier and learning more about the culture, it has been much easier communicating with people. If you’re assertive, patient, and respectful you can get quite far. Pronouncing words in Thai accent helps a lot as well—although I feel a bit foolish doing it. And in the end of the day, I will never be able to show how much appreciation I have for the kind and helpful strangers I have met, especially when they inform you when you’re about to exit the bus two stops too early.