5 Important Life Lessons I Have Picked Up From Living in Thailand

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.

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6 thoughts on “5 Important Life Lessons I Have Picked Up From Living in Thailand

  1. Good for you Paul. I love these self-reflective moments. I feel like living here has taken me out of my cultural conditioning many times.

    I know I’ve learned a lot through Thailand too, and I hope I never stop. Cheers!

    1. Hi Lani, I like that it has made me think more about who I am. I hope to keep on learning as well because I’m sure there are plenty of more gems to find in Thailand.

  2. Interesting post Paul.
    Yeah, I have also felt annoyed by Thai culture on many occasions but my philosophical self has always asked questions like “who’s to say they are wrong?” We judge them through our conditioned eyes and say that some of the things they do are just plain wrong. But are they? I imagine 200 years ago, England was just as wild and free as Thailand is now. I see it as a kind of disability when people can only see one way.

    Our western society is so ordered, so counter-intuitive. Thais may seem annoying at times, but at least they do things from the heart and not the head as we do most of the time. I have learnt many things from living in Thailand that I will be eternally grateful for. I am tired of these wining westerners who complain about every thing Thais do. My new plan is to try and be as positive as possible about Thailand and Thai people!

    1. I agree with you Ryan. We can just assume that the ways of our culture are superior even when we are trying to escape that culture. I think there are many important lessons that western countries could learn from Thailand.

  3. Paul – An excellent post and I can relate to your story about crisps. My only worry about Thailand and other Asian countries is that as their wealth increases their mindset will become more western-ised. I truly believe that.

    Are you using the Flare social media plugin? I tried it myself but found it to be very buggy.

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