Daily Archives: January 9, 2007

Culture Shock in Reverse

English post office

An English house so different to houses in Thailand

People always talk about culture shock when they visit a country which is so different to their own. But, these days, how much of a shock can it really be? With the growing popularity of television channels such as Discovery and National Geographic, we are quickly becoming accustomed to different and varied cultures. In turn, due to the influence of Hollywood movies, many of these countries are becoming more Westernized. And with the passing of each new generation, their culture and national identity is seemingly becoming watered down.

Over the new year holiday, I recently returned home to the UK for the first time in three years. I have become so accustomed to the Thai way of life that I suspected that I would experience a kind of culture shock in reverse. However, notice my use of the word “home”. I was returning to the place of my birth. Surely I would fit in to the English life as if I had never left. But, deep down I knew I wouldn’t. Back in the early 1990’s, I had left the UK for the first time to travel around Australia for one year. On my return I just couldn’t settle down. I just didn’t fit in any more. I tried to go back to my old job and commuted into London every day on the train but I wasn’t happy. The only thing that kept me going was the plan I had of backpacking across Asia. I think I lasted about 14 months before I set off on my next trip.

The best thing about your home country is of course your family and friends. But, many of them were hardly recognizable to me any more. A cousin who I had last seen when he was eight was now married with two children. Even my parent’s house looked different. Kind of smaller than I remembered. Everything was alien and strange. There were white faced “foreigners” everywhere. Big ones too. It was kind of intimidating not being the tallest person any more. Going to the shops, everything was so neat and orderly. They even had proper doors. Everything was priced and everything was expensive. I found myself calculating the price of everything in Thai baht. But, I soon realized that unless I wanted to have multiple heart attacks all day, I should quit that idea. It costs what it costs.

After a while I realized this wasn’t my home any more. Home for me was in Thailand. I stopped saying “I am going back to Thailand next week.” It became “I will be going home soon.” Not only to the place where I have a house, but also the place where my heart is. The place where everything is familiar and I feel comfortable. But, that doesn’t mean living in Thailand is a “piece of cake”. It certainly has its ups and downs. I still feel sometimes that I am living in a goldfish bowl. But, I have come to accept it more now and I have settled down. I feel I now have a better understanding of the Thai way of life. But, what exactly is Thai culture? Is it possible to put your finger on it? Being away in a different culture for a few weeks made me think more clearly about the culture of Thailand.

In Thailand, there are two kinds of culture. There are the physical things that you and I can see. For example: Thai architecture, traditional Thai clothes, Thai food, Thai traditional music, Thai sports such as takraw and boxing, Thai religion and Thai local transport such as the tuk tuk. All of these things are familiar to me and I see them around all the time. Then there are the other aspects of Thai culture such as Thai manners and ethics. These are the things that you cannot take away from a person. The obvious first example is the traditional Thai greeting of putting your hands together in a prayer like gesture. But, it goes deeper than that. The Thai people have a deep respect for their elders and a sense of family unity. They believe in “grengjai” and “namjai” which is a kind of consideration and generosity to other people. It is things like this that makes Thailand what it is.

Over two years ago, I started writing at thai-blogs.com about life and culture in Thailand. Although I have written a lot, I have really only scraped the surface. It is now a new year and after my break, it is time to start writing again. I will be writing about not only Thai life, but also travel ideas for places to visit in Thailand. I have already started drawing up plans for the coming months. If anyone would like to share their experiences or write about Thailand then they are welcome to do so here. If it is a one-off, you can send me your article by email. If you want to blog more often, you can register now and start blogging in a short time. If anyone has registered already but are having trouble blogging, then please send me an email and I will sort it out for you.