There is so much that is so different for an American seeking to understand and adapt to Thai ways, but everything can be brought into focus rather quickly if you work diligently at learning the language, and if you don’t succumb to the temptation to remain the eternal tourist. Whether you are just visiting or staying for a while, or perhaps for a lifetime, you’ll adapt quickly and easily in this welcoming society, as long as you make a determined effort to meet and befriend real Thais living real Thai lives, rather than clinging to the lovely and sensual illusions that are offered to you generously and easily at every turn of the road.
It’s said that culture is like water to a fish – the fish can’t understand the objective nature of water, even though water is its entire existence until it finds itself caught and pulled onto dry land and into a universe of air.
It is virtually impossible for us to understand the cultural values, norms, beliefs and assumptions that make up our own cultural ‘water’ until we find ourselves washed up on a foreign shore. There we find ourselves in a culture where everyone is immersed in the everydayness and the naturalness of ‘the way things are’ for them. It is literally as natural to them as the air they breathe, just as we are in our own home culture. But now we are immersed in Thai culture.
Everyday life will seem strange and even exotic because of the contrast with all the “cultural cloud” that we carry with us – a kind of fog you walk around in when you are new to a culture. It takes a few weeks to burn off, but eventually it does and you begin to see things for what they are.
Once you get to know Thais as people rather than exotic strangers, and once you are beginning to understand the language and communicate in broken but much-admired Thai, you’ll soon also find yourself occasionally thinking “mai pen rai” when things aren’t going the way you like. That’s then you’ll know that you’ve officially arrived in Thailand.