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12 Expats Talk About Adjusting to Life in Thailand

Joshua Wood

Summary: Expats in Thailand discuss adjusting to life in Thailand - customs, cultural blunders, struggling to learn Thai and more.

Night Market in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Night Market in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Expats in Thailand talk about adjusting to Thai culture and customs. They talk about blunders they've made, struggling with the Thai language, diversity and meeting people in Thailand. The expat population in Thailand ranges from young English teachers who travel the country and surrounding countries, some families and many retirees enjoying the low cost of living and beautiful beaches.

Cultural Blunders

"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," said one expat living in Bangkok, Thailand.

"The Thai National anthem is sang twice a day throughout the country. When I first arrived in Bangkok I did not know that when the anthem is being sung everyone has to stop what they are doing, and stay still, like even if you riding your bike, or walking on the street, you need to stop and stand like a statue. So the one day I am busy minding my own business wondering why everyone has suddenly froze, only to be shouted at (in Thai) by a biker... Initially I thought that he was shouting cos I'm ... well, brown... but he was just trying to tell me to stop walking," mentioned another expat in Thailand.

"I probably inadvertently butchered the language, but the Thai were too polite to criticize," commented one expat who made the move to Thailand.

"Undoubtedly, I have and unintentionally continue to do so. It is very easy to make blunders because there are many cultural rules in Thai society. Thai culture is complex and hierarchical. It takes Westerners a while to gain appreciation of what that means," remarked another expat living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

What Expats Appreciate about Their New Culture

We asked expats in Thailand what they appreciated about their new culture. Here's what they had to say:

"I have come to learn that the Thais are a very forgiving people and that they will always deal with problems in a non confrontational and conciliatory way. But perhaps the thing I notice most is the Thai smile and of course the food :)," said one expat living in Bangkok, Thailand.

"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," mentioned another expat in Thailand.

"Few busybodies, do-gooders and bleeding hearts interfering in the lives of other people. Respect for elders," commented one expat who made the move to Thailand.

"Thai people are generally gracious and welcoming. They are extraordinarily tolerant. The food is marvelous. The cost of living is very low; medical care is inexpensive and excellent. There is very little crime. Older people are visible and respected. Humility, kindness, and generosity are valued," remarked another expat living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The Most Challenging Aspects of Living in Thailand

Then, we asked expats in Thailand what was most challenging about their new culture. They replied:

"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)," said one expat living in Bangkok, Thailand.

"Keeping my head up high, knowing that everyone judges me purely on my appearances, and knowing that just because I am dark skinned, they truly believe that I am not good enough and I am insignificant," mentioned another expat in Thailand.

"No matter how hard you try, you will NEVER EVER EVER be accepted by Thai people. You will ALWAYS be an outsider. Xenophobia is the name of the game here," commented one expat who made the move to Thailand.

"I didn't find anything particularly challenging, but I made up my mind that I would study the culture, behavioral characteristics to try and understand the differences, and there are many," remarked another expat living in Bangkok, Thailand.

Diversity in Thailand

We asked expats about diversity in Thailand and whether locals are accepting of differences. They said:

"The Thais, as Buddhists, are very accepting of diversity. However, the expat community's views on diversity will range from those you see in their own countries. The Thai culture is, of course, dominant, but the expat community has also introduced a lot of its varied cultures (mostly food) into the city," said one expat living in Hua Hin, Thailand.

Meeting People in Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai, Thailand

Expats living in Thailand talked about meeting people in Thailand and local clubs and organizations:

"Songkhla International Women's Group, a small but welcoming group of both accompanying spouses (including men and domestic partners) and career women. There is a HASH and various informal clubs for sailing, flying, etc... one only has to go to the local pubs and ask around," said one expat living in Songkhla, Thailand.

"There are many - Hash House Harriers, Many Rotary and Lion's Clubs, a Toastmaster's Club - and many charitable organizations if you wish to volunteer. Those include the Gibbon Foundation, the Soi Dog Foundation and more. There are also organizations involved in long-term assistance to the victims of the Dec 26, 2004 tsunami," mentioned another expat in Thailand.

"There are over 5000 expat families living in this city. Because of this, there are literally hundreds of programs and clubs to join. From "Little League" to ballet classes to chess clubs to golf schools, this city is a great place for families. Our family was lucky enough to be transferred here for work," commented one expat who made the move to Thailand.

"There is a myriad of groups in Hua Hin to join, including a ladies group, foodies, Trash heroes, BikerBoys and others. Best way to find them and join is on Facebook," remarked another expat living in Hua Hin, Thailand.

Expat Life in Thailand

What is it like living in Thailand? Here is what people had to say:

"For western expats, Hua Hin is mostly a retirement and second home city. There are a few who have moved here and opened up businesses, usually bars and restaurants, but most are either on winter vacation or permanent vacation. Their priorities, therefore, are socializing, the beach, visiting nearby sites, restaurants. For the Thais who live in Hua Hin, the city is mostly service oriented for the expat and tourist communities. Hua Hin also draws many Thais as a beach vacation location, as well as many Chinese tourists," said one expat living in Hua Hin, Thailand.

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About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood joined Expat Exchange in 2000. His areas of responsibility include creative aspects of the community, research, sales and business development. Joshua received his Master's Degree in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University and graduated from Syracuse University with a BA in English Textual Studies.

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First Published: Feb 23, 2018

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