When the table gets turned

How foreign visitors to Thailand should behave to accomodate local customs is the focal point of many discussions here. However, recently our resident “Do’s and Don’ts” expert, Steve, showed us in his blog what happens when the table gets turned. He gave us an insight into what Thai people will have to watch out when their way of doing things clashes with that of a western culture.

I decided to add a few more pointers to his already excellent list.

If you become friends with a Farang of your gender, do not hold his/her hand. It may be a friendly gesture at home, but over here it’s likely to be misunderstood that you want to take it to the ‘next level’.

If you see a Farang goofing up in public (trips and falls, for instance), don’t laugh to ‘ease the situation’. You’ll be the only one to do so, and it’ll be perceived as an insult; your nose may be on the receiving end of a well-aimed Farang fist.

If you goof up, don’t just smile but do make an effort to apologize. For instance, if you spill the beer of a big fat Farang sitting next to you in the pub, the usual Thai grin will get your teeth knocked out.

Don’t think too much about Farang occasionally swearing. It’s not such a taboo as it is in Thailand. If you tell about a problem of yours to your friend, you may even get a sympathetic “awww, that sucks!”. Other times, you may hear “Dammit!” and “oh shit!” when something goes wrong. Contary to what you may think, it’s simply the equivalent of “saeng wa” in Thai. In general, do learn to distinguish swearing at you, from swearing in front of you. The former is an insult; the latter is not.

Do get used to Farangs yawning in your face, it’s okay there. However, don’t dig boogers from your nose in public: that’s not considered as okay here as it is back home.

BKK Metro users should know this already: please wait until passengers get out of the bus/elevator before you go in. You won’t get smashed between closing doors, trust me.

Eating in the West
Spoon is for soup only. Do get used to eating solid food with fork and knife. Try to get used to the horrible Farang custom of sticking a fork full of rice into your mouth.

When you are eating out with Farangs, make sure that you order all the food that you’d like. If you see one of your friends ordering your favorite food, don’t assume that he will share it with you, Thai style. Order your own portion as well.

Similarly, don’t put food on the plate of the Farang you are eating together with. Follow the selfish Farang custom: what you ordered is yours only.

Try to curb the Thai fetish for plastic bags, straws and rubber bands. Over there, when you buy a bottled drink, you will also receive the glass bottle as a bonus! Just imagine! … however, you won’t get a straw with it. Something gained, something lost, I guess.

Don’t be offended if you get some items, such as a bag of Oreo cookies, at the local store without an additional plastic bag either. Also, when you order food at a fast-food takeout, you don’t have to say “in bags, please”.

Most important
Do share your culture with the Farang around you. Chances are, at least some of them will be so impressed, they may want to live the rest of their lives in Thailand. It happened that way with the writer of this blog.


9 responses to “When the table gets turned

  1. Hi SiamJai,

    Really good advice 🙂 “Do share your culture with the Farang around you”. I normally don’t take any medicine when I get a cold or fever and sometimes with a light headache. My Farang friends used to offer me “Paracetamol”. I said: “No, thank you very much. It’s not that bad”. When I got a cold/fever, I like to cook myself a REALLY REALLY HOT Tom Yum soup (around 15-20 chillies). That makes me get better within a day or over night. My Farang friends who got fevers did not believe me, but they finished a small bolw of my Tom Yum anyway. They were killed by the soup for an hour or so. I could see them perspiring and crying out loud. Well ! no pain, no gain or no blood, but tear. The next day, their fever was gone. Thai food does work for them too 🙂

  2. Thanks SiamJai –

    Always interesteding to look at things from the Thai in Farangland view point as you and Steve have recently demostrated although to my personal (biased maybe?) opinion I think the Thai way is the better way.

    Western culture just has too damn (note: said in front of, not at anyone haha) hangups. For one thing I find it charming that Thai males have no problem showing closeness or affection by holding the hand of their male friend, no sexual or romantic inclinations implied just free expression. Here in the West it’s almost like everything is, to paraphrase, ‘sex until proven otherwise’.

    I know every culture is a give and take, none are so perfect that they don’t have any fault at all but I think we Westerners make too many of our own faults because we take everything too seriously and I will be the first person to tell you I am just as bad about that. My dream,aside from being in Thailand, is that being there teaches me not just the Thai way but a truer way of dealing with life with alot of ‘mai bpen rai’ a lot of learning to laugh again and a lot of ‘greng jai’ for what is really important and not what is in my personal bank account.

    I could rant on here for awhile but I’ll spare everyone for now, time to shower and get ready for work anyway *sigh* 😉


    Btw, Sripan, I’ll have to remember that about the Tom Yum with chillies this fall when the cold and flu season hits here. I am up to 10 chillies now usually when I make pad grapao so this should not be too ‘hard to swallow’ for me hehe

  3. Wit, don’t say or write hehe, in Thai that’s bad word dude!!!

  4. Jing ler? Koh thot na krab.

    I didn’t know that, thanks Bang for letting me know. How about 555 instead? 😉

  5. Hi Wit,

    Please feel free to apply Tom Yum for curing your cold/fever/headache. To me, Tom Yum’s ingredients are ‘herbs’ (chilli, galangal, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, coriander, lime juice, nam prik pow or black chilli paste (onion, garlic, tamarind and peanut are mixed in this paste). So, make sure that you are not allergic to one(s) of these ingredients or avoid one(s) of them, if you are allergic to it such as peanut. Then prepare to have lots of tissues around you.

    After having a bowl of really hot Tom Yum, people will perspire a lots and have tear and nose running for a while. But these three reactions actually help reduce high temperatures (above 36 Celsius when people get a fever, right?) and get rid of bad chemical which generates a cold, fever or headache. After that your nose is clear and you will feel better from a heavy headache. If you feel better, but still have a light cold/fever the next day, then you should have Tom Yum again or have ‘Tom Kha Gai’ or ‘Pad Grapao’ that day. That would also help. Many scientific studies note that having chilli regularly reduces a chance to get cancer.

    Btw: Bang’s advice is significant because ‘…. hehe’ in Thai tends to denote to ‘cunning’ aims of the person.

  6. What you written there Siamjai is pretty much how a lot of Farangs feel.

    Darned, but i think Thais swear a lot too! Should here the mouth on a lot of my students, and they’re only grades 5 and 6!

  7. Siamjai, strikes a hard bargain!!!
    Await the next round of negotiations now…. these blogs are real fun!!

  8. We don’t necessarily swear but use the “lower” language. A lot. So it’s a lot like peppering your speech with F this and F that.

    Of course, you didn’t hear this from a girl who attended hi-so private school. We’re supposed to talk pretty. 😉

  9. Thanks for the comments, everyone! 🙂

    Sripan, it’s amazing how different cultures have found the same solution to life’s most common problems! Your medicine of hot Tom Yum reminds me of the folk wisdom of my own European country, where a really hot, spicy soup is also used as the cure for cold. I know it works, first hand: I had it when I was a kid. Thank you for reminding me. 🙂

    Wit, I’m glad you liked the blog. I too, feel that the Thai way is more suitable for my character than Western customs, and I can deal with the shortcomings of the former easier than with those of the latter. 🙂

    However, I’m not sure whether you are aware of one really annoying thing over here, and that is…

    Here in the West it’s almost like everything is, to paraphrase, ‘sex until proven otherwise’.

    Sadly, this is exactly the case in Thailand too, surprising it may be. Before I came here, I thought of it the same way as you do. I knew about folks of the same gender holding hands; ladyboys more freely expressing themselves etc. But then came the shock: if you happen to be hetero, and a man, and -gasp- farang, things are not rosy, and the same Western preconcieved notions will apply. Try to be alone with a female friend of yours. Neighbors will gossip about the two of you, calling her all bad names imaginable. You can even lose your job over it, if you have one.

    Here I should also note that all Thai guys I met during this one year (and I met many) are extremely jealous of their girlfriends. (I don’t know about wives though.) You wouldn’t believe the lenght some of these guys go to make sure that ‘their girl’ stays off. I will write a blog about it one day. It’ll be an eye-opener. 🙂

    So definitely: sex until proven otherwise. Sad but true.

    Oakley, Steve: I know, many Thais swear, and even more talk ‘low’. However, I also met some who are uneasy about any impolite talk, and have a hard time telling the difference whether the offense was directed at something or someone. My advice goes to such people. 🙂

    Oakley, I am fascinated with Thai ‘street talk’ and slang, and I’m learning every bit that I stumble upon. I already have a small collection, but I really have to have my ears open, because folks usually become tight-lipped if I openly express my interest. Best is when they don’t know that I understand. Then I ‘fish out’ a suspicious phrase and ask close friends about its real meaning. 🙂