We have been in Thailand almost 6 weeks now, and are getting increasing insight
into Thai Culture. The Thais have a saying, “same same but different,” and that
is exactly how we feel about Thailand and its people. Every day we find
connection in our similarities and enrichment in our differences. We thought
we’d discuss a few of those insights here.
As we traveled through Southern Thailand, we noticed a great amount of attention
placed on the feet. Thais always take their shoes off prior to entering a home
(which is how it is in Bulgaria as well), but they take it to another level by
taking their shoes off in the stores such as pharmacies, grocery stores,
minimarts, etc. It is also considered rude to sit with the soles of your feet
facing a person (or an image of the Buddha). So might be hard to have your legs
up on the coffee table in Thailand!
We also noticed that people in the South were more reserved in their clothing -
probably due to the major Muslim influence of Malaysia. Usually, women would not
wear tops that show their shoulders and would never wear bikini. They just go in
the water fully clothed (as do Thai men). As we have reached the North, women
seem to be more lax about these restrictions but are still a lot more modest
than their Western counterparts.
Regarding food and etiquette, it is interesting to note that Thais eat primarily with spoons. At each meal, you are served a fork and a spoon, but the fork is only used to push food onto the spoon. The Thais believe it is uncouth to eat with your fork! We have really taken to eating with our spoons now and it is actually much easier, especially with the rice-centric dishes of Thailand. The Thais are also much more lax related to “food safety”. Eggs are never refrigerated, even in grocery stores, and cooked foods will often sit for purchase for hours in the open air markets. While we did get a few stomach bugs in the South (primarily from seafood we think), so far we have been surprised by how this seems to work and how anal we can be about it in Europe and the US.
The one thing that Jeff talks about missing the most is breakfast. There is one breakfast dish here, jok – a rice porridge with a crazy amount of ginger, garlic, cilantro, and a few pieces of meat. It is quite delicious and really good for digestion but it can be hard to find, especially in tourist prone areas. For the most part we see Thais eating the same dishes for breakfast as they do for dinner. We still haven’t had a really spicy curry for breakfast yet – not sure my stomach can handle such a start!
As we are immersing ourselves in Thai culture, which includes learning Thai, we are noticing that Thai verbs don’t have a past tense. This is quite intriguing from a Buddhist perspective. Would a linguistic lack of a past tense necessitate a greater connection to the present moment? Regardless, it does lead to a greater chance for confusion. Native Thai speakers have told us that formal conversations often have multiple questions strewn throughout to clarify things like tense, number, etc… What Thai lacks in complexity in those areas it makes up for with its five different intonations – the word ‘khao’ means 5 different things depending on how it is pronounced! And the alphabet is just insane with 44 consonants, each with an inherent vowel, and 18 other vowels.
As you can see, travel is an endless observation of Same Same But Different, a Thai adage that neatly summarizes life.