One of my first lessons I had to teach as an English teacher trainee was about the difference between “I’m getting used to ___” and “I am used to___.” It’s simplistic in itself (one is a process and the other a completed action), and yet there’s such a grey area as to when you are fully used to something. In terms of myself and Thai culture, I’d say I’m just about used to it… sort of.
Jonathan and I are just a couple days away from celebrating our first month in Thailand (woo!). It’s a bit hard to believe, frankly. Everything has gone from overwhelming to a life of new routines and expectations. Here are a few of the things we’re basically used to now.
1) You see that pickup truck over there? Yes, that’s the bus.
A sawngthew in action
One of the oddest new additions to my lifestyle in the past month has been a new form of transportation– the songthaew (pronounced “song taw”). Long gone are to the good old days with my lovely Honda Civic. I now get around town on a pick up truck with benches on the inside of the truck bed. If you see one going by in Thailand, raise your hand and the driver will pull over to where you’re standing. Jump on board, hang on for dear life, and pay a mere 8 baht (about 25 cents) to ride anywhere in the city. Luckily, they’re frequent, relatively safe, and a lot of fun when you’ve gotten over the absurdity of the situation.
2. Perfecting the wai
In Thailand, there is custom that’s impossible to miss and important to master. With a slight bow of the head and hands held together in a prayer-like position, the wai is a normal greeting in Thailand (see Ronald’s position above). The level you hold your hands is essential, since there is a particular wai for strangers, friends, monks, etc. Also, you should consult a Thai person to make sure you’re doing your wai in the correct way for your sex (one’s more feminine). I’ve actually found this practice to be a lovely way to greet people, since it seems a bit more personal than a handshake.
3. Here’s your fork and spoon, madam.
As a girl raised in the Southern US, it’s no surprise that I was among the many who attended cotillion courses to learn proper etiquette. This included a lesson on how to use all the utensils, big and small, that were positioned meticulously around my dinner plate. When I first got to Thailand, I was a bit perplexed as to why I was never given a knife, even with dishes with thick meat. After a few tries and a lot of observation, I’ve learned that Thai’s prefer to use the fork for scooping food onto the spoon, when it will then be eaten. It’s a bit different than the knife and fork etiquette I was drilled on, but the Thai way has become second nature now.
4. Water. Lots of bottled water.
If you look in any tourist book at Thailand, you’ll see grave warnings to travelers about the cleanliness of Thai tap water. “Don’t drink it!” they say. “Beware!” others say. Since Jonathan and I aren’t ones for taking chances on these matters, our life now includes bi-weekly trips to the store for water (which we carry home ourselves, mind you). It’s a bit tiring and obviously not environmentally friendly, but it has to be done. The humidity itself keeps you grabbing for bottle after bottle each day. Never will I take tap water for granted again!
5. Finally, squat toilets.Photo Courtesy of Thai travel news
We’re quite lucky in the fact that our apartment has a western-style toilet. But venture out into the real world of Thailand, and you might not be so lucky. I can’t say this is my favorite cultural change in my life, but you learn to takes things as they are in Thailand.