We all have heard this term, and to my surprise there are so many foreigners never getting over it. You know the standard story – a foreigner comes to Thailand, falls in love with the country, and perhaps a female, and lately perhaps a bit of a smaller trend Thai males.
But what is a culture shock exactly and even more important, how to get rid of that nasty feeling that you hate the country that you acquired after staying here for longer than a year?
Well a culture shock is common and simple – you don’t feel good with the customs that happen in a culture; here in Thailand most common things I hear is that the pace of work is slow, people are corrupt, females are generally dishonest to you, most people smile but cheat you with that same smile, or the national feeling that Thais carry in general. Well there is a whole list pretty much depending on where you come from. It really does not matter much what it is that gives you this discomfort, it is there and staying here won’t be so pleasant if you keep those feelings.
Personally, I had a culture shock myself too. I was here for a year and a half and had several negative experiences in the country, and this did not go the way I wanted. I really felt discomfort in staying here. I spoke decent Thai, and however it was often not enough to have a good conversation with other Thais. At the same time I started going more often to the party places, you know the regular Bangkok late night clubs, some local bars, acting out my frustration which I had acquired over the day. This was something really not helping and I do advise anybody that suffers from culture shock not to do so.
So perhaps more interesting is how to get rid of this nasty feeling towards a country you once loved so much that you decided to stay there. Well, first of all, stabilize your life. Get in to good sleeping patterns, avoid gogo bars or any of the locations that you used to visit that weren’t productive. Having a local partner is ok, but realize that this might be the main source of your frustrations and if so you had better dump the woman because if that is the case you guys won't last and the shock you will experience will be a lot harder.
Secondly I recommend all of us learn Thai. Many of my friends did not do this and keep on being frustrated for many years. Thais do tend to respond a lot better if you speak their local language, even if it's not perfectly. The ones that do not welcome you know that they are up for no good. But learning the language, and stabilizing yourself is just one small step in the right direction. A language is not learned overnight and results are not seen the next day. I had this problem myself too. In my second year I could barely read Thai. I spoke to some locals but conversations were limited and even then I expected golden mountains, a great amount of local friends and this did not really work as planned. However, there is light on the horizon but it might not be a golden pot like at the end of a rainbow.
So to continue with your culture shock cure, mix between the locals. I don’t mean go to all rural areas in Thailand to follow your girlfriend, but actually go to some local bars in the area. This might sound scary and weird but believe me if you come often in a bar either with one friend or alone locals eventually will talk to you, but think about this, if you go to a low-class kind of bar the people might come from very different backgrounds as you which makes communicating not the most pleasant experience. But don’t just follow your stick in those places; you are here to socialize, not to capture the local girls out there. If it does happen you often just become the boyfriend of the girl.
Well I did this back in the days all right and wrong, as my advice comes directly from my own experience together with several classes that I have followed about culture and culture shocks. The point is I made some friends who never became my best friends but good company for the time being. My Thai improved very fast I got a different perspective on females.
Continuing the culture shock I experienced, I sometimes thought I knew it all but in fact I did not. I was more positive but I knew a little about the mindset of my fellow Thai friends. As a parallel, I also had foreign friends in Thailand with who I often discussed things and enjoyed a more international way of thinking. As expats I think we can all agree that there is some commonality between us. We are in a foreign country and help each other on problems we face in Thailand. While at first this was very depressing, making contacts with locals myself helped me a lot feeling good in the country and I recommend all of you that have a culture shock to go the same direction.
By doing so I still face the same problems I had in this country when my culture shock started. However I often don’t think of it as problems. I have accepted that I differ a lot from Thai people, and that because of cultural differences it is very unlikely for me to become a close friend with most of them. But I do not hate any of the Thais that I meet; I actually can have a good laugh with one, a beer and talk nonsense for a very long time.
Most of us living here for more than 5 years still have some culture shock. Some can’t stand the way Thais work, while I see it as different, perhaps a bit like this, I see that maintenance often lags in this country, so I don’t invest in real estate, not because there might be no profit in, but because my personal feeling towards this differs from that of the local people. However I do go often to a local bar to have a few drinks, enjoy beaches and find other opportunities, but one thing is for sure those opportunities become much more visible if you feel positive towards the country and you have no problem with the people living in here.
I hope that my writing has given some insights in the importance on language, learning to understand locals and having a stable life. Just take the country lightly as well as everything that happens around it. Most problems you face are faced by Thais to only responded differently on.
Some tips of conversation to start with locals; the beautiful places in Thailand, nice things about your own country and sports often do good. Thais tend to speak about light things when going out which often differs with my expat friends where we prefer to speak about politics, economics and business opportunities.
I also recommend not speaking so fast about woman to your new made Thai friends. Thais have just like everybody else a pre-programmed mindset and do stereotype a lot too. The western man hunting on Thai woman is not really the best stereotype to be associated with.
Perhaps even lying if you are involved with a Thai woman and you are not so serious with her as it just sounds so much better that you are not only here for the woman especially the rotten apples as described in many previous posts. Thailand is all about face, and you want to keep your own face positive too.