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12 Expats Talk About Adjusting to Life in Thailand

Joshua Wood, LPC

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

"There are a number of cultural taboos that should be observed in Thailand. Luckily the people from Orientations told me about many of them but I still made errors. Perhaps the most common for me was the use of the "Wai" which is the prayer like gesture the Thai use to greet each other. I found that I was initiating this gesture with Thai people and as there are fairly complex rules about who should do this first and even how high the hands should be held depending on the relative seniority I cause much embarrassment to my Thai friends. Once again, Orientations was able to put me on the right track with this," said one expat living in Bangkok, Thailand.

"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," mentioned another expat in 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," commented one expat who made the move to Thailand.

"I probably inadvertently butchered the language, but the Thai were too polite to criticize," remarked another expat living in Bangkok, 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," added another expat in Thailand.

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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:

"Thais are very laid-back with a very strong focus on family. They also have an extraordinary work ethic which is probably do to the harsh standard of living," said one expat living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

"There are few Thai who go running around telling other people what they should do, unlike the USA. The Thai do not interfere in the lives of others without a very good reason. The Thai are patient, fun loving, and tolerant, show respect for other people and especially for elders, and love their freedom," mentioned another expat in Thailand.

"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 :)," commented one expat who made the move to 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," remarked another expat living in Bangkok, Thailand.

"Few busybodies, do-gooders and bleeding hearts interfering in the lives of other people. Respect for elders," added another expat in 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.

Diversity in Thailand

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

"This is a diverse and accepting area. I was not aware of the extent and presence of Christian groups, facilities and missionary work," said one expat living in Chiang Mai, 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:

"American Women's Club, Community Services of Bangkok, American Chamber of Commerce, International Women's Ministry, and American Association of University Women. Any local group formed in your particular neighborhood. If you have children, become involved in their school," said one expat living in Bangkok, Thailand.

"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," mentioned another expat in 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," commented one expat who made the move to 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," remarked another expat living in Chiang Mai, 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," added another expat in Thailand.

Expat Life in Thailand

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

"Varies greatly. There are many very wealthy retired people here - and lots of low budget retired - many foreigners working for a living - the range of people and priorities are great," said one expat living in Phuket, Thailand.

"Chiang Mai is a pretty social city. There are a lot of family events and outdoor places to go. A lot of families spend their weekends at resorts just outside the city," mentioned another expat in Thailand.

"This is a very laid back place overall. People who are working still work hard but enjoy the social aspects available," commented one expat who made the move to Thailand.

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About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000. Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Some of Joshua's more popular articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and 5 Best Places to Live in Spain. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.

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First Published: Feb 23, 2018

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