Assumptions Of An Expat Woman In Thailand
This article was originally published on ExpatFocus.com, here.
After seeing my partner off in a taxi to Suvarnabhumi Airport, I was ‘lucky’ enough to get the next taxi to take me to work. It seemed to be very humid already, we hadn’t seen any rain the day before and I was feeling it. I was also struggling to walk after the previous day’s gym workout…
After giving my directions and settling in, I say to the Taxi driver “Ron maak!” (Hot, very! In my best Thai!) to which he replies “Yes, but that is because you do not work very hard or exercise” (In his best English!)
My limited Thai gets me through many situations, but I had no idea how to respond to this! I politely smile in my British way, whilst seething inwardly! How dare he! What does he know! I can hardly walk after my exercise yesterday (ok, this was my first attempt at serious exercise for a long time, but nevertheless, I exercise…) AND I was on my way to work!!
I stopped talking. I was definitely sulking with the taxi driver and although he spoke very good English I really couldn’t be bothered to explain that he was wrong…maybe this is indeed what they think of us farang?
As I pondered further on his comment to me, I passed by the many Thai people working out in the heat; people cooking and selling food, cleaning the roads, waiting for passengers to ride their mototaxi and some walking to work, all without a bead of sweat dripping from their brow. Is this indeed what he thinks of as ‘hard work’ whilst he’s sitting in his air-conditioned taxi?
It really made me think how quick we all are to make assumptions about other people and their lives. As Expat women our family and friends can often be quick to point out how ‘lucky’ we are without the worries of working, cleaning and driving whilst shopping, lunching and living in a holiday hot spot that most people dream of visiting one day.
The reality, for us, is far different. Husbands working away, organising schools for children and making sure they are settled, dealing with said cleaners and drivers, building a network of friends whilst also dealing with the daily challenges of living in a country where the language and culture are a constant demand.
If we think about mentioning any of this to family and friends we face concerns that we will be perceived as ‘ungrateful’ for not fully realising how ‘lucky’ we are. Ok, yes, we are ‘lucky’, but we are here in Bangkok supporting our husbands’ career and the personal cost can sometimes feel high, which is often not acknowledged by anyone else outside of our situation.
I am a supporting Expat partner myself and there was no question of us not coming to Bangkok! I love Bangkok and on my holidays here Thailand always kept a little piece of my heart when I left. Where could be a more perfect place for me to live?
However, the reality has been very different, I’m not on holiday (again this has been questioned!) work beckoned for my partner and I had to fend for myself! I was living in a new house, in a new neighbourhood without a clue of what I was going to do. I missed my friends, my family and of course they knew nothing about how I was feeling.
After conversations with other Expat women, I soon realised that I was not alone in facing the difficulties of adjusting to life in Bangkok, whilst also coping with the loss of a valued support network of family and friends. I also became aware that the other issues that bothered us as individuals hadn’t gone away simply because we had moved continent; indeed I felt they became more exaggerated.
Just like this taxi driver, we all make assumptions on other peoples’ lives as we compare them to our own, but we only get to live our life and not those of the people we often feel have it better, or easier, than us. We cannot know how other people feel about their life, just as they don’t know how we are feeling about ours.
On reflection, I don’t expect the taxi driver actually meant to offend me and I cannot be sure that I haven’t unknowingly done the same to a Thai person whilst attempting to speak their language! But, he did make me make me pause for thought and more determined to get into a routine at the gym and learn an appropriate response in Thai should I ever get faced with a comment like that again!
Originally from the UK, Samantha Pryor is a Psychotherapist and Hypnotherapist who relocated to Bangkok, Thailand in November 2010. As an Expat Samantha recognises the issues encountered when relocating, how the experience of another culture and language can be daunting whilst coping with the loss of a valued support system and dealing with problems that haven’t gone away just because you’ve moved continents!