I was in my early thirties when I moved to Thailand, and I’m now near my mid-forties. I’ve benefited a great deal from living in this part of the world. Here are just five of the most important life lessons I’ve gained from my time here:
The Squeaky Wheel Doesn’t Get the Oil in Thailand
I come from a culture where making a fuss can increase the likelihood of getting what you want. Back home, if you feel you have been treated shabbily by a business, you can usually get what you want by being assertive or just causing a scene. I remember from my time working as a nurse that it was those patients who threatened to sue everyone who tended to get the most attention. I cynically refer to this phenomenon as ‘the squeaky wheel gets the oil’. In Thailand, making a fuss usually has the opposite effect – especially if you cause the other person to lose face. You have a much better chance of getting what you want by being polite and smiling a lot. I know there are many expats who would disagree with me, but I much prefer the Thai way of doing things.
Community is Important
I suppose I should feel grateful for coming from a country where being an independent-spirit is encouraged, but I do envy the Thais their close family and community ties. I’m a total social misfit, and this hasn’t changed by living here – in fact, I’m probably more self-centered than ever.
When I lived in rural Thailand, I sometimes felt overwhelmed because there would always be other people around. Complete strangers would just wander into the house for a chat. I couldn’t open a bag of crisps without it turning into a community-get-together. It made me feel incredibly uncomfortable at times, but I also knew that this was my loss. I can see how comforting it must be to feel part of something much bigger than me. My spirit of independence is based on self-obsession, and this can disconnect me from the world around.
Magic Exists if You Believe in It
When I first came to Thailand, I was very dismissive of anything supernatural. I arrogantly believed that superstition was only for the weak and gullible. This narrow-minded view of the world meant that I could easily become irritated by talk of ghosts and magic. This was a big problem because I was surrounded by people who believed in such things – including my own wife. I had a choice, I could either go on thinking that everyone around me was a bit dumb, or I could keep an open mind about things like ghosts. I didn’t want to turn into a resentful and bitter expat, so I choose the latter option.
I still don’t really believe in ghosts, but I have no problem with the idea they might exist. I’m open to the reality of magic, and this has meant that my world has become a far more magical place – a wonderful gift from the people of Thailand.
I Am Strongly Conditioned by My Culture
I went through a few periods of culture shock during my first few years living here. At these times, almost everything about Thailand would annoy me, and I would become incredibly home sick. These periods of self-pity were made worse because I automatically assumed that because people did things differently here, it must mean they were doing them wrong. I even got angry with the way they laid down tarmac on roads because it wasn’t the same as in Western Europe.
It took me a bit of time to realize that the problem wasn’t the Thai way of doing things, but the fact that I’ve been strongly conditioned to expect things to be a certain way. I never realized just how much I’d been conditioned by my culture until I was completely out of it. This insight has helped me a great deal, and it has given me the freedom to look at things in a new way. I no longer just assume that because people are doing things differently, it must mean they are doing them wrong – at least on my good days anyway.
Life Doesn’t Have to Be So Serious
I love the way the people of Thailand are capable of turning almost anything into a fun activity. In the west we tend to associate fun with slacking off. There is this implicit understanding that you can’t be working hard and having fun at the same time – if the boss is around, you have to look busy and be serious. The Thais prove that it is possible to get the job done with plenty of merriment along the way. I’m convinced they could even turn shoveling shit into a giggle-fest. In a post on here yesterday, I mentioned my intense nature and how I tend to take things way too seriously. So this is another aspect of the Thai character that I wouldn’t mind acquiring for myself.