For those of us who’ve made the decision to transplant our lives and move to somewhere completely different, there’s a change in mindset that occurs after a while. This mental shift revolves around the way we view people who are traveling and backpacking around our newly adopted homelands. Now I can only speak to this from the perspective of a white guy living in Thailand, but I’m sure the same thing applies to expats all over the world.
To sum it up, we don’t like tourists. I feel like this is especially pronounced in Thailand too because it’s such a beautiful place and offers a wide range of escapades to anyone passing through. It’s cheap, you can relax on some of the best beaches in the world, and you can try to convince yourself that the nice lady with the Adam’s apple and big hands “likes you for you” (She doesn’t. Has penis). There’s something here for everyone. Combine these with a local culture that couldn’t be more different than ours and us who live here are subject to cringe-worthy situations on a day-to-day basis.
In order to really relay this scenario, you need small back-story on Thai culture. To sum it up entirely too quickly, Thai people just want to chill, eat, go with the flow, and for everyone to be happy. Being reserved and controlled with one’s emotions is expected. To be confrontational or angry is seen as a stain on your social standing.
As a result, when we see one of our fellow countrymen shouting at a Thai person for not speaking perfect English or operating a system that’s inherently inefficient, it makes us squirm like a nun in a nun-themed brothel. We feel the Thai person’s pain by association because we know what it’s like to have someone shout at you in a language that you don’t understand. Expats who live here make such an effort to learn the culture, the language, and adopt the local way of doing things because we want to fit in and represent our own countries well. Then tourists like this come through and make us all look like assholes. When possible, there’s nothing more satisfying than speaking to that local in their native tongue and making fun of the hot-headed foreigner as they look on in confusion at the white guy speaking Thai.
We also become strangely defensive of our position as the local foreigner. For my first 6 months here, I lived in an extremely tiny town with maybe only 2 or 3 other westerners there. You would think that when we would see each around, there would be an unseen bond between us and that we would say, “Hey friend! Let’s stick together!” Wrong. When I saw the other white guy in town, all that went through my head was… “Who the hell are you?” (This of course is in stark opposition to the unspoken connection that exists amongst bald men)
Finally, since we as Westerners stand out so much and are typically greeted with nothing but smiles and open arms, our sense of self-importance can become a little inflated. But we’re okay with it because we know that we do our best to return the Thai hospitality with respect and appreciation. So when we see other farangs come in and take this treatment for granted, we want to smack the elephant pants and Chang tank-tops right off of them.
So I suppose the take home point here aside from just venting is that if you’re traveling to a new place, be polite, be patient, and don’t get angry if somebody doesn’t speak English. Sometimes we may wish that certain things would work differently, but hey, what can we do. Just keep on smiling. To any expats reading this, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.