For a Western expat, living in rural Thailand is a whole different ball-game from living somewhere like Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Phuket or Koh Samui. So if you haven’t done it but are thinking about living in a Thai village here’s 10 things you need to know. It is also a good idea to remember that this is when you will stop calling the shots.
- If you speak Thai you will have an advantage – villagers will be surprised and you will be accepted more quickly.
- If you speak conversational Thai and you understand the village culture you will have a massive advantage– but then you will have no need to read further. What I am really saying here is, if you can aspire to this and work towards it you will be ‘quids’ in.
- If you have a Thai wife or a Thai partner don’t believe all they say. – That is not to say they are untrustworthy but you will need to know that their status in the village will change because of you. They will not know this until it happens and will tell you many things about the villagers which they believe to be true but aren’t. In the Thai hierarchical society your Thai wife may not be of high standing because she is not well off or isn’t a teacher or other government employee (positions which are highly prized). But when you arrive she will be viewed differently by many people (not all) because it will be assumed (rightly or wrongly and without evidence either way) that you are rich. Possessions and money (perceived or real) is the benchmark by which she is judged by many and she may become a target for some family and friends. Unfortunately this can lead to many upsets as she finds out that what she told you about many people is proved to be wrong. Be careful; she will need your support.
- Listen, watch and learn. – Although this is a basic tenet for life generally add ‘and don’t speak too much’ and there is a slightly different emphasis. It is so easy to misinterpret what is going on because of the cultural and language difference, so engage your brain and process stuff well in advance of speaking, except for the mundane.
- When you disagree don’t voice it publicly. – Even when we understand things perfectly we often disagree so you will definitely have disagreements. How you deal with them is critical and is one of the most difficult areas for outspoken westerners (Farangs). You will have to bite your lip until it drops off.
- Don’t give in to family pressure – You are a Farang therefore you must be rich!! That’s a given. They may come at you from all sides, like guerillas, and you may not spot them. This issue is partly covered in Point 3 but money may not be the only pressure point. Remember that your wife or partner is also a daughter and regardless of age has a demanding responsibility towards her parents, while ever they are alive. This is a parental right in Thai culture that is unlikely to change in your lifetime, if ever. You can never expect to be ‘numero uno’ so never ever be a wedge.
- Expect to get screwed but don’t become a recluse. – This may sound amusing but it is not. It can be very tempting at times to slam the door but it won’t help too much. You must learn to understand the handout or take mentality of some Thais. Whilst it is considered wrong by the more enlightened this attitude still prevails, is ingrained in a lot of people and is not considered bad in any way by them.
- Learn how village life works, integrate and you will be accepted. – If you are living in a village you may as well learn to love it even if it is totally alien to you. Some Farangs either can’t or aren’t prepared to integrate and end up locking themselves away from the villagers or rather, not communicating. They are in the wrong place and can never be truly happy. If you embrace it there is such a lot to enjoy, simple as it may be, and soon you will become a Thai! Once you learn the ropes and villagers see that you understand them (even if you don’t fully) all the negatives aspects will disappear. Be patient. 99.9% of the villagers won’t have had the worldly experience you have had.
- Be friendly with everyone – Make friends with no-one. – This may sound a bit harsh but I think it is good protection. Blood is thicker than water and doubly so in Thai villages.
- Get to know who matters – Believe it or not some people in your village will have power, like the Mayor for example. Many local politicians and police live in the villages. It can be like a secret society at times and until you are well established you won’t know who’s who or who you may need to help you at some point. So make it your job to find out and, unobtrusively, get to know them. You may also find that a few people speak good English and they will be proud to talk and help you if needs be.
So now you know; to be happy in rural Thailand YOU will have to change – No-body else will and you can’t expect them to.