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11 American Habits I Lost When I Moved to Thailand

Thailand United States Student Work
by Casey O'Connell Apr 16, 2015

1. Being stressed out all the time

When I’m behind Thai people who are moseying down the sidewalk while munching on a skewer of pineapple, I slow my roll too. I no longer glorify a frantic, fast-paced lifestyle, nor do I believe that being stressed is the only path to success.

I’m dedicated to my job, but I have time to get coffee and chat with my co-workers during the weekdays. I work hard because teaching is a demanding profession, but I don’t have to do the impossible to feel like I’m making a difference. A less stressful, laid-back work environment helps me to lead a more balanced life; I always have time to stop and smell the… street food.

2. Buying groceries and cooking my own food

I no longer burden my arms with with heavy bags of groceries, but I do occasionally pick up takeaway bags filled with hot tom yum and spicy som tum. Instead of an expensive, weekly shopping trip to the grocery store followed by manual labor in the kitchen, my daily routine involves seeking out cheap and delectable Thai meals from the nearby street stalls and restaurants. No muss, no fuss, no cleanup.

3. Wearing jeans

Although jeans are not just an American habit anymore, almost every American has a favorite, indispensable pair. Sadly, I’ve put my favorite low-cut, skinny, blue babies into storage because in Thailand’s tropical heat, they uncomfortably suction themselves to my sweaty body. I need a little more airflow than denim can provide: breezy skirts and breathable, light fabrics are the way to go.

4. Being completely independent

During my first few months in Thailand, it bothered me that servers wanted to pour my drinks. Self-sufficiency had been a huge source of my pride in America: I could drive myself around in my own car, do my own laundry, clean my own apartment, and I could definitely pour my own beer, thank you. However, I’ve learned to loosen the reins.

I let sweet, old Thai ladies grab my hand and sweep me across the street; they’re not trying to undermine my independence — they’re just being nice. I let servers pour my beer. I rely on taxis to get me to work every day. Even cleaning and laundry services are affordable and sought after, so I’ve had my apartment cleaned. Nevertheless, I have yet to relinquish my laundry duties.

5. Shopping in indoor malls and department stores

Thailand has high-end malls and sparkly, stocked department stores, but I don’t spend any more time withering away under their fluorescent lights than I need to. I’ve developed a love for shopping outdoors: on the streets and at festive outdoor markets. It’s enjoyable, and it can be done anywhere, anytime. On my thirty-minute walk home from work, I pass power cords, blow dryers, batteries, skirts and sandals, hair products, cheap pirated DVDs, and a solid selection of exotic fruit. Everything I need (and don’t need) is right outside my door.

6. Eating excessive amounts of dairy

I’m the girl that needed liberal amounts of cheese to be pleased. I ate it on my eggs, with my spaghetti, melted in my soup, and sprinkled on my salad. Cheese was a cherished staple of my diet, as it is for many Americans.

However, cheese is not found in Thailand, unless you want to pay big bucks for it at the grocery store. Thai cuisine is heavy on white rice, broth-based soups, coconut-based curries, and noodles — all of which are topped with meats, seafood, eggs, and veggies. I’ve traded cheese, milk, and sour cream for zesty Thai dishes, and my downfall is now fried chicken instead of ice cream. Surprisingly, my waistline has been pleased with these compromises.

7. Eating with my fork in my right hand

Along with a change in diet is a change in the way I eat my food. I’d always eaten with a fork in my right hand and a knife in the left. Now my fork waits in my left hand, and its backside pushes rice and other food pieces into the spoon held by my right hand. I don’t need a knife, and I no longer use the impractical tactic of mashing the last few pieces of rice onto the back of my fork… because we all do that.

8. Talking loudly

In the States, we can easily (and not always purposely) eavesdrop on each other’s phone conversations. You couldn’t hear a Thai person on their phone if your ear was an inch from their mouth. They practically whisper into their phone while covering their mouth with a cupped hand. I never realized how naturally loud I was, or how loud most Americans are, until I was around quiet, soft-spoken voices. I no longer yell into my phone or shout at my friends who are sitting next to me and have perfectly fine hearing, though sometimes we give each other friendly reminders to take our voices down a notch.

9. Leaving the house in sweatpants

In college, I didn’t give a second thought to wandering down the aisles of my local supermarket hungover in patterned flannel pants, hair in a scraggly bun, rings of makeup smattered on my face from the previous night. And would I get a second look? No way. Americans are notorious for doing their errands while looking super subpar.

I tried pulling this stunt in Thailand and never have I felt like such a hag. Thai people, especially females, are well manicured and put great care into their appearance even to do something as simple as shopping. Now I don’t get all dolled up to go to 7-Eleven, but I do at least look somewhat decent before leaving the apartment — aka no pajama pants.

10. Always voicing my honest opinion

Americans always like to have a say in the matter; we like to speak up about wrongdoings and voice our dissatisfaction, and yet those acts would disrupt to the peaceful way of life in Thailand. For the sake of keeping things smooth on the surface, I now keep my dissenting and unsolicited opinions to myself.

Did the server put sugar in my coffee when I asked her not to? Oops, I’ll drink it anyway. Is the change back from the taxi driver off by just a bit? I can live without the extra ten cents. In a culture where saving face is valued, I don’t want to make others (or myself) look bad by raising my voice or getting angry, even if mistakes have been made. I’ve learned to let the little stuff go in order to leave Thai feathers unruffled.

11. Wearing a seatbelt

Buckle up! Click it or ticket! When getting into a car, these were always the safety slogans that rang in my head. I panicked the first time I got into the back of a cab in Thailand — where’s the seatbelt? In the backseat of most cabs, it’s not even an option to buckle up, and I no longer instinctively reach behind me for the seatbelt. Besides, who needs a seatbelt when you can cling onto your motorbike taxi driver who is speeding between 2 lanes of traffic? Hold on for dear life, and enjoy the ride.

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