Four Things that Surprised Me about Thai Culture

June 26, 2014
Four Things that Surprised Me about Thai Culture

You are fat.
You forgot to take off your shoes.
You don’t have a pink “Hello Kitty” phone case?

Despite one’s culture, people are all essentially the same. But cultural differences can sometimes make two groups of people feel worlds apart. There are a number of cultural differences when comparing my current home – Thailand – to the one I grew up in – the United States.

Four Things that Surprised Me about Thai Culture
Jenny in Thailand

Here are a few things that surprised me about Thai culture:

1. Bluntness

Blunt statements such as “you are fat” or “you have acne on your face” are commonly made in Thailand and in other Asian countries. Receiving these sorts of comments would be considered rude and insulting in the United States. But in Thailand, it is considered normal. In fact, I was told just last week that I looked like I had put on a couple of pounds. I don’t understand the logic in this normalcy so it can sometimes be difficult to not get offended. So it is important to recognize that this is just a strange cultural difference and not to take it too personally.

2. Lower safety standards

It is not uncommon to see a woman holding her baby while sitting sidesaddle on the back of a motorbike – with no helmet. Construction workers hold their balance while working from tall buildings and most cars do not have a seat belt available in the back seat. So when it comes to safety in Thailand, there is a very easygoing attitude, which differs from stricter standards set in the U.S.

3. Shoe courtesy

The number of times I’ve been told to take off my shoes is endless. Here in Thailand, people take off their shoes in sacred places. They can include a home, classroom, temple, and, in some cases, even a restaurant. I do not understand the point of it to be honest. At the end of the day, my feet are dirtier than ever due to the amount of dust I’ve acquired on the bottoms of them, and it is a pain to continuously take my shoes on and off.

Yet I’ve just learned to grin and bear it. After living like this for nine months, I’ve grown so accustomed to it and now it feels weird when I walk into a room without removing my shoes.

4. Thai women’s innocence and youthfulness

Women in their teens and twenties –and even older than that– carry “Hello Kitty” bags, pink glitter phone cases, Winnie the Pooh accessories, and a variety of other things that relay the idea of youth. Of course, this example is not applicable to every Thai woman, but it seems to be more culturally acceptable in Thailand than it is in Western society.

Living at home into one’s twenties is also not uncommon and many women don’t drink or smoke. People seem to grow up a little slower than they do in Western culture. It’s both a little odd and refreshing to someone who was raised in the United States where there is pressure to be act like an adult at a young age.

For me, respecting and accepting cultural differences in Thailand has been quite an adjustment. Certain aspects of Thai culture don’t seem logical, which makes it difficult for me to follow them. However, no matter how bizarre or uncomfortable these cultural aspects might be, they are part of the culture – and it is something one needs to adjust to when living in Thailand.

About Jenny Tolep

Jenny Tolep is currently working as an English teacher in Bangkok, Thailand. In her free time, she enjoys traveling to new places, meeting new people and photography.

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