Greetings from Thailand: Learning the lingo
There are some aspects of American social norms that we can all agree on. For example, we generally like talking about ourselves.
Imagine your friends. Most of them can’t wait to tell you what happened over the weekend. When school resumes in the fall, they will share all kinds of crazy stories of the summer. Some are modest, but many will do this. When in public, we are generally cordial but brief with strangers. To foreigners, we are mostly short and aloof, unaware of their experience. Americans value individualism. We all like to know we can do things on our own. We sometimes feel that we are simply better when operating alone.
I have noticed some contrasting social traits among Thai people. Keep in mind I am a foreigner and will not have the same experience as a local person.
There is much less individualism in Thailand, instead there is more collectivism.
The people like to be part of the group. If the group is small, they will invite others to join to create a larger, communal group. During lunch, you will hardly see someone eating alone. People like to get to know everyone, so you will see others say hello to everyone they pass.
After classes, the students join scholastic clubs. These clubs vary from photography to American dance to a young professionals organization. There are people who take them seriously and there are people who attend just to have fun and meet others.
For leisure, Thai people tend to gather in places other than their homes.
This is because of two main reasons: people live very far from each other and still live with their families. There are some dorms on campus, but they are not very big and out of the norm.
When meeting friends, Thai people will meet at a mutually agreed upon place, which could be something like a restaurant or nightclub.
When in public, Thai people will act differently to different types of foreigners. Someone who stumbles around without learning any Thai language would not see much depth in the people around them.
The locals would try and use English, but would be fairly straightforward and charge a premium for services. A foreigner that tries to learn the language will have a much different experience.
Even in just saying “sawadee krup” (hello), people will laugh and joke around. Each week of learning key words will show much more depth to the silly, fun interactions.
People will start teaching you random words. Each time you travel by taxi, you can talk to the driver. They are happy to share some knowledge instead of driving around in silence. Last week I learned how to say ‘rain’ and ‘flood’ since it was raining and flooding. I hope people will show me more cultural nuances as I improve my Thai language skill.