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Has Thailand Changed You?

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Has Thailand Changed You?

When expats first meet, there’s a feeling out process. Eventually you come around to finding out how long each other have been living in Thailand. If you meet someone who has been here longer than you, it is only proper to show respect until they prove they don’t deserve it. If a person has been here significantly less time than myself, I reflexively try to figure out what stage they are in. When you asked someone how long they’ve been here and they start their answer with “Well, the first time I came was ….” they are about to try and impress you with a fictitious number and are full of crap.

Inevitably we are drawn to people who’ve been here a similar amount of time; even more so if they are a similar age. We all want someone to relate to and compare notes with. And more often than not, we end up talking about how Thailand has changed us … or not.

To be sure I’ve picked up some habits here in Thailand that seem peculiar to my fellow countrymen. For instance, I take off my shoes in my house … anyone’s house actually. When I visited my brother in the US and he constantly fell over my shoes at the front door, he thought it was me trying to “be Asian”. When he came to see me in Thailand he found out that shoes in the house is a real no-no. I find that this is a habit lots of expats pick up.

How we eat is another category of behavior that most expats will agree changes after some time here. What I eat is certainly different. No longer is my diet loaded with potatoes and red meat. Rice, fish and fresh vegetables are the order of the day. I don’t drink soft drinks. I don’t eat butter or margarine. My dairy intake is very low. Even the way I eat is different. First off, all meals are “community” in nature meaning I don’t order a dish and forbid anyone else to have some. Also, I couldn’t tell you the last time I stuck a fork in my mouth. Like a Thai, I use the back of a fork to push food up onto my spoon and then put it in my mouth. I don’t do it that way to impress anyone; it’s just a superior way to get the job done.

But I must say, one area of food consumption that has not changed is my love of leftovers. Like my mother, I have quite a collection of sealable plastic containers (Tupperware) used for storing uneaten portions of meals either overnight or in the freezer for later consumption. During my 7 years of marriage to a wonderful Thai woman, I found out this is an alien concept. She simply could not understand how or why someone would want to eat food left over from yesterday.

And that’s the story this picture is telling. I may take off my shoes before entering the house. I make eat Somtum and chicken feet. I may use both hands when handing someone a business card. But, I still eat last night’s pizza for breakfast with a cup of coffee.

I haven’t gone completely native.

Orlando Barton

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