10 Culture Shock Moments You Will Probably Experience in Thailand

Here’s a list of the weirdest, most culture-shock inducing things about Thailand as an expat living in Thailand.

Some of these things I’ve gotten accustomed to and come to enjoy, others, I’ll never get used to.

1. No toilet paper (bum gun instead)

Man spraying a bum gun near toilet in Thailand

You’ll often find toilets in Thailand that have no toilet paper.  Instead, what they have is what’s called a bum gun! It’s a small spray to clean yourself after doing your business.  It took some getting used to at first, but now I think I can never go back to the method of rubbing dry tissue paper on your bum and calling it a day.  The bum gun is truly a better way.  Just make sure to bring some toilet paper with you to dry yourself off after. 

2. Obsession with white skin

A woman with  white skin

If you come from a western country, a tan is seen as a positive thing.  We think it looks healthier and more attractive than being super pale.  Here, it is the complete opposite.  The beauty standard for both men and women is chalk white skin.  So much so that skin whitening creams are available on supermarket shelves and most Thais avoid the sun like the plague!  I frequently see Thai women use an umbrella to walk from one building to another to make sure they don’t get any sun for that 10 second walk (and no, I’m not joking). Although it’s weird for me as a foreigner, there is a long history in Thailand tying skin color to class and status, so it’s a big thing here. 

And this is not to say that if you have darker skin you will be mistreated here. People of all skin tones can live great lives here. Just know that the beauty standard here, like in most of Asia, is a preference for whiter skin.

3. Ice in Beer

A bottle of leo beer next to a glass of leo beer with ice

I’m not a particularly seasoned drinker myself, but even I thought it was weird when I first ordered a beer here and it was poured in a glass and served with ice!  In all my years in America I’ve never seen anyone drink beer with ice.  But here, it’s the norm.  And I gotta say, I prefer it!  It softens the taste of the beer (which is a plus for me), keeps it cool, and even keeps you more hydrated.

4. Heat and humidity like nowhere else

A man spraying himself to escape Thailand's heat

There’s something about the heat here that defies logic.  When you look at the temperature, it gets hot for sure, but it feels so much hotter than the actual temperature.  I’ve been to places that have a higher temperature, but somehow don’t feel near as hot as Thailand.  I don’t know why that is. Don’t believe me?  I guarantee it will be the first thing you notice when you arrive in Thailand and step outside the airport.  Before I moved to Thailand, I was living in Chicago.  And going from freezing January Chicago directly to Bangkok gave me a shock to my system I wasn’t prepared for!

5. Crazy nicknames

A name badge with a common Thai nickname

Every Thai person has a nickname. This is probably because their full names are often quite long so it’s easier to use a nickname in day-to day life.  But the thing about Thai nicknames is that they usually have nothing to do with their actual name.  And quite often they are just random objects or companies!  Here are just some of the crazy Thai nicknames I’ve seen: 

Burger, Google, Sith, , Phone, Jedi, Guitar, Beer, Gravy, Boss, Captain, Gun, Starbuck, King, Giant, Caramel, Tee Off, Golf, Title, Arm, Cotton, Almond, Purse, Sky, Cake, First, Cartoon

Most of these are former students of mine, so yes, I know they are 100% legit.  These are the names they will be referred to by their parents, teachers, friends, and just about everybody.  

Sometimes I wonder what was going through the parents’ heads when they chose these nicknames for their kids! Did they just look around the room and choose an object at random?

6. Ladyboys

A before and after of a ladyboy in Thailand

Although everybody knows Thailand’s reputation for having ladyboys, it was still quite a shock to see just how many of them there are here.  In my years of teaching I’ve taught many ladyboys and soon to be ladyboys.  And in one case, I taught a ladyboy student who at 17 years old already had breast implants!  But they still had to wear the male uniform to school and keep their hair short like all other male students. 

I’ve asked Thai people many times why they think there are so many ladyboys in Thailand.  I always get the same response.  A shrug and “I don’t know”.  

7. Sitting on the floor

A family sitting on the floor eating a meal

It’s not uncommon for Thai people to get together and sit on the floor. Often they’re huddled around a small grill to grill up some meat and drink some beer (with ice of course).  As a westerner I never could quite get used to sitting on the floor and eating.  Even though I’m fairly flexible, I’d still cramp up and feel uncomfortable sitting cross legged on the floor. And I was quite shocked when I visited my girlfriend’s family up north and they had no chairs in their house at all!  During meal time, they sat on the floor. Watching TV? Sitting on the floor. Drinking beers or Lao Kao (rice moonshine basically)? Sitting on the floor.  But for them, it was perfectly normal!

8. Street Food Everywhere

A street food market in Thailand showing a variety of Thai foods

This is one of the best things about Thailand for sure.  The availability of street food everywhere.  Whether it’s a full on market, or simply a cart parked up on the side of the street, every turn down the road has the potential to be filled with delicious street food.  Coming from America, where there isn’t a street food culture, this was such a nice change.  There is so much cheap street food that most Thai people don’t really cook. The majority of their food will be from a small open air shop on the street with a tin roof or a street food market. 

9. The spiciest food I’ve ever eaten!

A bunch of chilis, some ground up and some whole

As a kid, I remember my little sister telling my mom to stop buying mint toothpaste because it was “too spicy”.  So… yeah.  Needless to say, I didn’t eat a lot of spicy food growing up.  Besides the occasional Mexican meal, there wasn’t a single spicy food I’d regularly eat. So coming to Thailand  was a major shock!  Thai food is so much spicier than any other cuisine I’ve ever had. And now after being here for many years, I’ve grown to enjoy a little spice, but I still can’t take it the way most Thais do.  I think their stomachs must be made of iron to eat absolute fire spiciness and still function properly. For me my eyes start watering, my nose running, and I’m left with a stomach ache for the next 24 hours.  If you’re like me, remember this phrase when you want to order some food: Phet Noi (not too spicy)!

10. Stray dogs and cats

Dogs sleeping in from of 7/11 in Thailand

You will find stray dogs and cats all over Thailand.  The cats are usually scared of people and won’t cause many issues, but dogs can cause problems.  A trick I’ve heard is to bend down and pretend to pick up a rock if you encounter an aggressive dog.  I guess enough people have thrown stuff at them that they’ve learned to run away if it looks like you’re gonna chuck something their way.  But honestly, this is only advice I’ve heard from other people who’ve had issues with street dogs.  I’ve never had any issues with stray animals here and have even encountered some really chill, sweet, street dogs. You’ll even see some dogs that chill out in front of a 7/11 to get a breeze of cool air conditioned air whenever the door opens. 

I’ve only just scratched the surface with this list of 10 things. Stay tuned for a follow up post with even more culture shock moments I’ve had in Thailand.

Here is part 2 for even more culture shock/interesting things about Thailand:


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    […] more interesting things about Thailand, check out the series on culture shock moments in Thailand: part 1, part 2, part […]

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