10 More Culture Shock Moments
This post is a follow up to my first post on culture shock moments in Thailand. If you haven’t read that one yet, check it out first:
With that said, here’s 10 more culture shock moments/unique things I’ve experienced as an expat in Thailand.
1. Monks Walking Around Everywhere
You would expect to see monks in temples, but what I didn’t expect was quite frequently seeing orange robed monks walking barefoot around the street (far from any temples). Especially in the morning, I’ve seen it countless times where people will kneel before a monk with their hands in a “wai” position as the monk goes through his chant and “blesses” them. This wouldn’t be that out of the ordinary at a Buddhist temple. But it’s quite a sight to see when it’s just on the side of the road near a street food stand or something like that!
2. Men becoming monks once in their lifetime (and if a relative dies)
This follows the previous point. When I first arrived in Thailand and started a teaching job, I’d occasionally have male students show up to school with their heads shaved and even their eyebrows shaved. Naturally, I’d ask them why they shaved their head/eyebrows! They would say it’s because a relative died. At first I didn’t understand the connection but eventually I learned that it’s a tradition for many male Buddhists in Thailand to become a monk when a family member dies. And beyond deaths in the family, most Thai males are expected to be a monk at some point in their life. It can be as short as a couple days all the way up a few months. Pictured above is famous Muay Thai fighter Buakaw during his time as a monk.
3. Getting surprise massages in the bathroom.
This is a really weird one. And it’s an experience you will probably never have. But on rare occasions in the male bathroom, you might be washing your hands when some “toilet attendant” starts massaging your upper back and neck! When it happened to me the first time I was absolutely confused and shocked, but I was in the public bathroom of a semi fancy rooftop bar and restaurant in Bangkok so I assumed they were employees of the restaurant just trying to provide great customer service. Because as you walked into the bathroom, there were a couple guys standing near the door dressed nicely and holding a fresh towel on each arm. After washing your hands (and massaging your neck!), they gave you a towel to dry your hands.
As I tried to leave, they asked for a tip so I gave them a 20 baht note and went on my way. After this first experience, I had this happen to me a couple more times at different restrooms in Thailand (although I stopped them early because now I knew what was going on). Apparently this is rare, but does occasionally happen in the male bathrooms in some bars/restaurants in Thailand. Just be aware of your surroundings and be firm and say no if you see someone trying to give you an impromptu massage for tips (unless that’s what you want)
4. Plastic surgery
In America (and probably most of the west), plastic surgery is a bit of a taboo subject. Yeah, people get cosmetic operations done, but it comes with a kind of a stigma. Here, plastic surgery is much more common and it doesn’t seem to carry the same shame that it does in the west. Plus, one of the most common cosmetic surgeries done here is something I’d never even heard of before coming here!
Most women (and men) from America who get nose surgery will be making their nose smaller. Here, their nose surgery is to make it bigger by giving them a nose bridge! You see, many Thai people naturally have a flatter nose bridge (and for some reason it’s considered an unattractive trait in Thailand). So a huge percentage of women with the funds (and some men too) will get a surgery to “add” a nose bridge to make their nose more prominent. But I still find it weird because the way I was brought up is that plastic surgery is kind of a “bad” thing and you should find a way to be happy with your natural self.
But from my experiences, many Thai people don’t seem to have those same hang-ups about plastic/cosmetic surgery and will get procedures done at a much higher rate than people in the West.
5. Rice for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and dessert.
Although everyone knows that rice is commonly eaten in Asia, it was still a surprise just how much rice is eaten here. Most Thai people I’ve met are perfectly happy to have rice at every single meal and even for snacks and dessert sometimes too. Rice is such an important part of Thailand that the most common greeting is “Have you eaten rice yet?”/ “Gin Khao Yang?”
This tends to be used more than a simple “How are you?” / “Sabai dee mai?”
And the weird thing is that the phrase “gin khao” translates directly to “eat rice” but it doesn’t always have to be rice. If you say “Pom Yak Gin Khao”, again, it translates to “ I want to eat rice” but you can say this to mean you are hungry and want to eat a meal even if there’s no rice in the meal.
So rice is so intertwined even in the language that “eating rice” is synonymous with “eating food”.
On April 13th-15th every year, Thailand celebrates its new year. If you’ve never heard of Songkran before, it’s a wild experience! I’m surprised it isn’t more famous because there’s just nothing like it in the west. During the days (or sometimes up to a week) of Songkran everybody sprays water on each other with squirt guns, hoses, or buckets of water. There are usually certain areas of each city designated for water fights. People in the back of pickup trucks will have water gun battles with the crowd on either side of the street. Plus you may have strangers coming up to you and rubbing a white powder/chalk on your face! Traditionally it’s said to ward off bad spirits.
All in all, everybody needs to experience Songkran at least once in their lifetime.
Although I must admit it can get annoying if you are trying to go about your day (shopping or whatever) and you get soaked! So if you don’t want to get wet, you need to stay inside during the days of Songkran because there’s not really a way to avoid getting wet if you pass by groups of people with squirt guns. They’re gonna spray you!
7. 7/11s absolutely everywhere
It’s crazy how many 7/11s there are here. I’ve seen 7/11s so close to each other that you can walk from one to the other in about 1 minute. Their prevalence is great because you can take refuge from Thailand’s heat in an air conditioned 7/11 while buying some surprising tasty food. Everybody swears by the ham and cheese toasted sandwich (including me). Some people even use 7/11 as their own personal grocery store because they have basic essentials like eggs, rice, bread, milk, cooking oil, along with a whole assortment of snack type foods.
8. Transportation everywhere
Coming from America, if you’re outside a major city, you pretty much have no option to get around besides driving. Most of America is so spread apart that there’s not good public transportation in most places. Thailand is very different. Pretty much every city in Thailand will have TukTuks (small motorized carts), motorcycle taxis, vans, buses, and more recently ride sharing apps like Grab and Bolt. And in Bangkok you have the BTS train and MRT subway, too. So I find it so much easier to get around without a car here than back in America. Plus, the Thai roads can be quite dangerous so many foreigners opt for using public transportation rather than driving themselves.
9. Super patriotism
Thai people are generally quite proud to be Thai. The Thai national anthem is played twice a day and if you happen to be out in public when they play it, it’s a sight to see. I remember when I first experienced this in Bangkok. I was out in a park when 6:00 pm came around and all of a sudden, everybody just stopped moving and stood silently where they were. I had no idea what was going on. But then I could hear a faint sound of the national anthem being played over the speakers and I realized they stopped dead in their tracks to listen to the anthem. Although in recent times you will see more people disregarding some of the older traditions like this (standing silently during the anthem in public), you will still see a lot of people following it.
10. Crazy fruit
Everybody knows about the standard fruit like apples, oranges, bananas, mangos, etc. Thailand has all of those, plus some crazy exotic fruits that I’d never seen or heard of. For example, the durian. Most Thai people love it but I can’t stand the smell. It’s a rotting, nasty smell for my nose. And it’s not just me. I’ve been to hotels that had a sign on the wall saying “No durian. If you bring in durian you will be fined 5000 baht.” Because if you bring durian into any room, it will stink up the entire room! But again, a lot of people really love it. Besides durian, there are so many other exotic fruits I had never seen before, like rambutan, mangosteen, longan, jackfruit and more.
Even after this second installment, there are still more crazy things/culture shock moments I’ve had in Thailand.
Here is part 3 for even more culture shock/interesting things about Thailand:
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