Since moving to Bangkok a few years ago, there have been many cultural surprises. Some I love… some… not so much.
1. You can drink your milk with a straw. No obligation, but the option’s there.
When you buy milk at the 7/11 or supermarket, the cashier always gives you two straws. One for you and one for your imaginary friend.
Why? Do Thais actually drink a litre of milk with a straw?
Similarly, Thai cashiers are the most enthusiastic distributors of plastic bags in the world, giving you far more than necessary, and bagging the smallest of items. Thank gosh they double bagged that milk. I was worried the second straw would push the plastic bag beyond its physical limits (crisis averted).
2. People still clean the streets with brooms
3. And sell fish from the back of trucks
How does it not go rotten?
4. And deliver ice like this.
With sheer strength and teamwork. Off the back of a truck.
5. You sweat. Constantly
Thailand is so hot, humid and muggy that for most of the year it’s impossible not to sweat. And on the rare days where I don’t sweat, I feel a personal sense of achievement. Drinks all round!
6. Women rate strangers on social media websites
Some Thai women, while commuting on the Bangkok Sky Train, snap sneaky photos of ‘cute guys’ and post them on open Facebook pages. They then rate the men, discuss their physical attributes, and otherwise talk about them with total strangers… who enjoy doing the same thing.
Check out Cute Guys on the BTS.
This guy was popular… his sneaky photo got 4.75k likes from complete strangers. Creepy much?
7. I think in Thai baht – even when ‘home’ in Australia
I earn Thai baht. I think in Thai baht. And when I go home to Sydney, I convert dollars to Thai baht, so I understand a product’s value. Last week, whilst holidaying in Sydney, I gave a waitress $70 to pay for two beers and a coffee… she gave me a reeeally funny look when she returned my $48 change.
8. It’s ok to comment on someone’s weight
Some topics are totally inappropriate to discuss in Australia… but are completely normal in Thailand. Weight is one of those topics.
At 173cm tall, I have had my fair share of Thai sale assistants subtly tell me they don’t have clothes in my size: “No size for big girl. Too fat. Too fat! Or when trying on clothes, having all the shop assistants drop what they are doing to watch me struggle into tiny Thai sizes. Lucky for them, I only went shopping for their amusement.
Additionally, after recently losing a few kilos from triathlon training, my colleagues joyfully told me that my face “wasn’t so fat as before”.
They’re not being rude; their comments are genuine and non judgmental. I’m not as fat as before. Fact.
9. I take motorbikes everywhere.
Taxi motorbikes are one of my favourite things about living in Bangkok. They play to my lazy side.
Motorbike drivers sit at the end of each soi (street) and drive the soi’s inhabitants wherever they need to go, weaving at breakneck speed between lines of traffic to take you from A to B as quickly as humanly possible. My motorbike taxi drivers wait for me in the morning and drive me to work for 40 baht, ($1.50 Australian).
God forbid I actually walk anywhere.
During the ride, we usually have long in depth conversations about how my legs are unacceptably long, and how they are making it difficult for the driver to weave in and out of traffic as he needs to make sure he doesn’t hit my knees against anything – you know, like a bus. This leads me to explain that it’s not my fault I’m a giant compared to Thais, and that we will just have to work with what mumma gave me. Won’t we.
Additionally, the drivers serve a double purpose. Paying off the Thai mafia for the right to base themselves on their turf, they provide a security role as well. I feel safe in the knowledge that the taxi drivers will protect me. After all, I directly finance their business.
The best thing, however, about these drivers is their effervescent personalities and smiles. They usually make me laugh with their antics, despite the language barrier. And sometimes they are just plain mischievous – like today, when they asked me if I had lost “one hundred kilooooo” after my recent weight loss.
10. You give up your seat for monks. And children.
In Thailand, you give up your seat for:
- Pregnant people
- People with disabilities
- Old people… and
11. Strangers carry my shopping
Sometimes, Thais seated on buses hold the shopping bags of people standing, to ease their burden.
The first time I saw this was when I was living in a very ‘Thai’ part of Bangkok. No tourists, no English speakers. I got on a bus after having just moved to Thailand, with no Thai language skills, no idea to whom I should pay my bus fare, or how to ask the bus to stop outside my house.
Out of the blue, the lady seated next to where I was standing, reached up and signaled for me to give her my bags. I watched bemused as she distributed the heavy items across her and her friends’ laps. A stranger had just taken my shopping! She then returned them to me with when I disembarked.
This happened on many post-work shopping trips. It’s a lovely custom, one that reflects the kindness of many Thai people.
Imagine the look of surprise on commuters’ faces if I tried this on the train in Sydney!
Here random stranger. Hold my shopping… Thanks.
12. You never use a knife. Ever
Thais eat with a spoon and a fork – not a knife and fork. Unless you are a small child learning how to eat, the spoon goes in the right hand and fork in the left, never the other way around. And the fork never goes in your mouth, but is simply used to push food onto your spoon.
13. You don’t cross your legs in public
In Thailand, it is considered rude to point your feet at both people and Buddhist statues. Result? People don’t cross their legs on public transport to avoid pointing them at unsuspecting fellow commuters.
14. I NEVER cut fruit
Anything worth buying in this country can be found at one of the many stalls on the side of the road. You can buy ice cream, deep fried banana, omelets, coconuts, brooms, rakes, umbrellas and much… much more.
This vendor sells barbecued corn outside my house, and even slices it off the cob to take home in a plastic bag. 20 baht ($0.60 Australian).
How about some fermented sausages?
Street fruit is ace – you point to the fruit you want (watermelon, papaya, pineapple, guava or melon), and the vendor cuts them quickly with a machete (yes a machete), giving you a bag full for 15 baht ($0.50 AUD). Then he gives you a little wooden stick for cutlery and you go on your merry way with your pre-chopped bag of vitamins. Similarly, one can buy pre-juiced oranges and lemons so you never have to juice your own fruit. Because who juices their own lemons these days?! Sooo 2014.
I can safely say I love Bangkok and Thai people – quirks and all. Still, I try to work out when abnormal became normal – when I came to accept these 14 instances as part of my everyday life. And how long, I wonder, until these norms are replaced by a new set of norms when I move to a new city?
In the meantime, however, this confirms I may never move back to Australia.
Who would cut up my fruit?