Thai cultural shock
So I decided to make this post because some people ask me how Thailand is different from Portugal. What's the biggest cultural shock?
Minor things aside, obviously the way they greet each other, the way they generally behave, etc. There is ONE BIG DIFFERENCE though - How we talk with others and how we behave towards others. Here's how:
Thais are very polite and non-confrontational. They like to be discrete and avoid conflict. Most times, they will not tell you their real opinion on something, especially if they think it will upset you or hurt you. This can be very hard to deal with, especially if you're working with Thais.
I actually had a situation at school, where one of my Thai assistants wanted to give me a suggestion, constructive feedback. It being my first year teaching, I craved for those suggestions! She ended up speaking with another foreign teacher from the school, with whom she had more confidence with, and asked her to tell me. I thought it was adorable from her, being so worried about my reaction, but the reality is, a lot more can go unsaid if you adopt this as your permanent behavior. Often Thais will tell you "Okay, yes!" but in reality they are not okay with the situation.
Thais are also very reserved in public so it's rare that you will see them causing a scene in from of other people. It was actually funny when I got back to London. As soon as I arrived, on the journey from the airport to central London on the tube, there was a guy speaking on the phone. The type of guy who speaks on one phone and texts on his second phone, all at the same time. He carried on yelling down the phone for about 40min and I kept looking around, thinking "Why is nobody saying anything? This is so disturbing!!!! Just fucking shut up already!!" Anyway, he didn't shut up and seeing everybody else on the train so careless about it reminded me that, actually, that is the norm in London.
But going back to Portugal... I have to admit I did not think of this the whole of the first year I was here in Thailand. Only this time around, after returning from my 6 weeks holiday in Portugal, I realised how different Portuguese are from Thais in this one area: speaking.
Portuguese people are obviously very friendly, bla bla bla, that's not what this post is about! Portuguese people can be very rude in the way they talk to others. Supermarkets, coffee shops, etc, sometimes it's hard to get a smile when you're being served. We also speak very loud, in general and, for some stupid reason, we have no problems arguing in public while yelling at the top of our lungs!
I had the unfortunate opportunity to witness it at least 3 times, at the doctors and at a gas station (during my 6 week visit!!!). People just seem to have no issue yelling at each other and being, in my opinion, a horrible human being to each other. Over what? Waiting a little at the gas station? A miscommunication at the doctor? I mean, say whatever you want but I see no justification for a man with a baby on a pram, inviting the security guy to go outside and punch it out. I mean, especially as he clearly had no training! As soon as he opened his mouth his legs were shaking like a fucking banana tree.
Seriously though! What is it? Is it because of the hot weather, people get grumpy? Is it the gluten in the bread? Or is it just pure cultural retardness?
Anyway, I have come to realise that yes, I can also be loud and I can sometimes snap. But I am aware of it and the only time I screamed in Portugal was when a car drove into me, causing an accident, and proceeded to blame me for it. Even on the road you can see this difference. I've driven in Thailand and Vietnam for over a year and never had an accident. Even in Bangkok... you would expect that you would be safer on an empty road in Portugal, at 11am on a Sunday. But no! People have absolutely no road manners / responsibility and we, Portuguese, care very little for each other in that regard.
One of the things I do keep with me though is how direct I am. What you see is what you get. And this has got me in trouble many times, especially in London. Politically correctness is more London's style and I don't think most English people are used to being upfront about things. I learned a valuable lesson during my 6 years in London. The beauty of a SHIT SANDWICH. YUP! You say something you like first and last, and in the middle you put the real shit you need to say. OH SO VERY CONFUSING for 22 year old Kelly, fresh out of rude and crude Portugal...
Another BIG difference worth sharing is Thai peoples' kindness. As I have mentioned before (if you have been reading my blog), when I first started working at my school, I was given a lot of clothes. Literally for a whole year, all I wore had been given to me. The same applies to food. I watched my Thai colleague take out 5 eggs out of her dozen, even though I earn 3 x time than her. This was a big lesson for me and it made me realise how we are so desperately selfish in the western world. Since then I have made a point of buying her a hot chocolate every now and then and always sharing things with her and other people.
Obviously there are other minor things... I mean in daily life, when I was back in Europe I kept telling my friends to remind me to buy water. In Portugal or London you can pretty much drink water from the tap everywhere you go. Big no no in Thailand and I'm constantly having to buy water or refill my bottles. Drinking over 3L a day, preferably ice cold... there's logistics behind it!
Another daily routine that I started freaking out with was the tissue down the toilet. I was back home at my parents’ house and I kept thinking... 'Wait, can I? Can I not?'. (I know weird topic but bear with me). I kept catching myself hesitating as to what to do in that crucial moment. Now that I am back, I have to remind myself 'Bucket! Bucket! Bucket!!!'.
RICE! I think it's worth mentioning rice just because I like to compare it with our bread. As soon as I got home I told my mum "There's one thing I will not eat while in Portugal! Rice." And I can safely say that in 7 weeks I managed to only have rice once (o belo do bitoque!! Bitoque, a Portuguese dish that HAS to have rice). Portuguese people, however, eat bread as much as Thais eat rice: breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Anyway, let me know what you think. If you have been in Thailand or live in Thailand, what would you say are the biggest differences between Thais and your own people. That can be a fun read!! I'd like to know.
With love, K.