We’re all used to doing things a certain way based on where we grew up, and when we experience a break from that normalcy, it can be a bit of a shock. Sometimes, it can be downright hilarious. So here are 10 things that Thais do differently than I do back home in the US, things that made me giggle the first time I experienced them.
1. Standing to pee and poo
I probably should have expected this, coming across a few squat toilets in China. But the first time I hit the lady’s room in Thailand, my initial thought was ‘what the hell is this?’ followed closely by ‘what do I do with that bowl in that bucket of water?’ I’ve now mastered the squatter and even embraced it (you can read about that here) but it took some serious getting used to!
2. Lady boys
Yeah, I read about lady boys in Thailand, but it’s quite different experiencing them in real life. Lady boys
are very comfortable with own their femininity. It’s quite a refreshing change to see others embrace them as they express who they are, whereas in the US, being a cross-dresser or transvestite is still a bit socially unacceptable (hopefully that changes soon!) I’ll never forget the first time I was on the BTS and looked down to see a huge pair of feet in some sassy kitten heels and though ‘Hmm, that’s odd…’ only to look up and see some masculine cheek bones and a look that said ‘yeah, that’s right, and I’m rocking it’. Every lady boy I’ve met since then has been confident and a little sassy, and I love it. My lady boy students are probably the best because they are still experimenting with their femininity and thus are as in-your-face about it as they can possibly be. The photo above are some of my favorite lady boy students, Dream and Beam (I have no idea what the hand gesture means…)
3. Have you eaten yet?
In the US, we might say ‘Hi, how are you?’ as a greeting or, ‘How’s it going?’ In Thailand you ask, ‘Have you eaten yet?’ or in Thai, ‘Gin lao mai?’ It’s a traditional greeting that probably stems from food being at the center of most gatherings and social events. Actually, at the center of pretty much everything. Each day, my head teacher asks me in English if I’ve eaten lunch yet, and I always have to remember that’s his way of asking me how things are. It’s a fun and welcome change.
4. Thai time
When my boyfriend and I took a mini Thai course in Chiang Mai, we showed up a half hour late to our 6 person class. We had been moving out of our apartment into a hostel and the taxi took 45 minutes to show up. I was sweating with dread about my walk of shame, already coming up with the apologies I would give the teacher. When we did come into class, apologizing profusely, she just said, ‘No problem, you’re on Thai time’. She then went on to explain that being late is okay, because maybe you saw a yummy snack you had to buy or a cute boy that you needed to check out. These are acceptable reasons to be late. We all laughed about it and it was no big deal. Now I am loving the Thai time excuse!
5. Digging for gold
Sorry, this is a gross one! I have been repeatedly amazed at how unabashedly Thais pick their nose. I mean, they really go for it. No matter the context or who’s looking, the time is ripe for picking a winner (sorry, I gotta get these joke out of my system). When one of my co-teachers told their students that it was considered gross to pick your nose in America, they didn’t get it at all. ‘Why is that weird?’ they asked. He had no answer for them. To each their own, but it sure made me laugh the first time I saw it.
This one is probably more funny for Thais than for me, but I still get a kick out of it. In Thailand, it’s normal and expected for people to shower twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. My (all male) students joke that I never shower because I once had an argument with them about how ridiculous it is to wash your hair twice a day. After admitting I only shower once a day at night, they asked me how I could stand waking up dirty. I said, ‘If I always shower before bed, then how do I get dirty while I sleep?!’ They think I’m nuts, and I find that hilarious.
7. Soi dogs in T-shirts
This is a random one and a recent discovery for me, but funny nonetheless. There are loads of stray dogs in Thailand called ‘soi dogs’, (soi means ‘street’ in Thai). During the ‘freezing’ winter, when temperatures drop to a bone-chilling 65 degrees fahrenheit, somehow all the soi dogs get snazzy shirts to wear. They are usually brightly colored with enlarged neck holes and are tied toward the bottom so they don’t drag when the dogs walk. I think it’s adorable that the locals worry about their stray dogs freezing to death in the night, where temperatures rarely dip below 65. And the dogs look pretty cute in the shirts, too.
8. Price negotiation
This one can be frustrating, but most of the time is fun. The first time I went to the market in Thailand, I was told that I could negotiate a price. I knocked a couple of baht off the price and the lady agreed with a chuckle. As I went along I got more confident, and when I bought a couple of things from the same person, they offered a drastically reduced price without me even having to ask. I couldn’t believe how much I got off the original price! Looking back it makes me laugh to think of how shocked I was, now that I negotiate everything, from clothing to electronics, from moto parts to medical bills!