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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Bangkok, Thailand

Submitted by Editguy

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?


Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

I have traveled a great deal and have learned to go with the flow. I had been coming here for a number of years, and lived here for a bit in the mid decade. Being from the U.S. I think that moving there is a bigger shock!

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

No, but working on it. I understand more, and surprise my partner when he is talking about me! Thai is a process. I tied a language mill and that was not helpful at all.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?


How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

Since I have been coming here for a number of years, not much of a shock, except when I have to endure the crowds at the market on a Sunday? YIKES!

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

I guess when I first came here, I thought everything was just rosey. Then I went through my first coup, which did not bother me much, but still provided instability for the country. Then when I moved back it was the Yellow Shirts and then the Red Shirts. Still did not affect me much, but was worried for Thailand more than myself.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

None of the above. I have none of the above, as I have planned this move with my partner for years. We took it slow, opened a bank account(banking relationship) years ago, bought a condo four years ago (looks like Italian bordello decor, but my patners choice), know my partners family and they accept me like a member of the family, and have Thai friends who actually hug me when they see me, not just a wai. I also have a few western friends, but not many, who are good for an outing to a pub and some hearty English food (note I did not say cuisine).

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

I've learned to go with the flow (Mai Penh Rai). I don't get upset much, pretty even keeled. After years running NGO's I left most of my stress at the door of my last job. I even lived through a TRUE (internet and telephone) mess, and they were very patient with me. In the US they called me the hammer, now I am the pussycat.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Struggle with language!!! Reading a menu that I can't read. I live in a 99.9% Thai area and have to rely on pointing and the basic language skills I am developing. If the taxi goes off the normal route on a dark, rainy night, I have no idea where I am, or where I am going. (I can share my ride during curfew, if anyone is interested, it's funny in the end)

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

Oh God, I'm sure I used a few words that did not have the right tone and was probably a nasty word, but they forgive me. I have had many laughs with Thai's because of something that I thought I said, that I didn't mean. My Thai friends taught me some bad words, that I repeated. Jokes on me! There is much humor in the Thai culture, so don't be embarrased to struggle with language, because it can break the ice. Oh yeah, make sure you eat all of your rice on the plate, as leaving some is an offence.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

Not really, just know that you just need to let go of your western concepts, relax, laugh, be polite, be clean, and enjoy this wonderful country and it's people. If invited to someone's home and everyone is sitting on the floor, sharing all of the wonderful food, get down and dig in. You will make much merit and great face in the eyes of your hosts.

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Comments about this Report

Jan 3, 2012 09:38

Hi, I work for KPMG. When i arrived i took a Thai cultural training course with a company called Change works. The trainer was an expat that had lived in Thailand for many years. His knowledge and understanding of the problems expats face in Thailand was extremely informative. What was also great about this course was that i was given strategies to deal with the differences rather than just insight! Check these guys out if you are new to Thailand!

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