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13 American Habits I Lost When I Moved to Thailand

Thailand United States
by Sofia Neilsen Aug 24, 2015

1. I lost sight of all constructed norms about masculinity.

Because why shouldn’t men be allowed to drive pink cars or belt pop songs at the top of their lungs in whatever pitch they want while taking a stroll down the street or singing karaoke? The men in Thailand seemed freer to explore their feminine sides, and some wore high heels or carried pet sugar gliders in their pockets. I appreciated that.

2. I quit viewing fruit as a dietary obligation for the sake of eating healthy and started seeing it as the best part of my day.

It isn’t hard to forget all about those generic imported bananas and stale apples. Northern Thailand is bursting with wildly delicious fruits like juicy pineapple, pomelo, lychee, passion fruit, rose apples, purple dragon fruit, and life-changing strawberries. I also couldn’t resist the omnipresent smoothies to go.

3. I stopped hiding my enthusiasm for cute animals.

When I went to renew my visa, the man at the immigration office only asked me one question as he pulled out his phone: “What do you think of this kitten I rescued yesterday?” When I responded with approval, he showed me the other rescued animals in his collection and some other images of the dogs owned by the King of Thailand.

4. I suspended all lessons about fire safety I ever had as a child.

Lighting off explosive fireworks in a busy street? No big deal. How about we launch this candle-lit lantern into the sky and watch as it gets caught in a tree or telephone wire? Sounds normal.

5. I stopped worrying about MSG in my food.

I quit wondering why every dish I ate was so delicious at the same time I stopped asking what was in it. Thais call the magical ingredient “tasty powder.”

6. I gave up on shaking hands.

The politest way to greet someone you respect is by bowing with palms pressed together and saying, “sawadika.” Even the Ronald McDonald statues in Thailand have adopted the salutation.

7. I forgot the meaning of cold.

After seeing enough people bundled in down feather coats in 70 degree weather, I decided I too could use a jacket. I happily forgot about single digit temperatures back home in Boston and the unpleasant feeling of having to wade through several feet of snow piling up by the second.

8. I got over my guilt about sugar and desserts.

I found it impossible to escape sugar. Instead of panicking I ate mango sticky rice every night and wondered why I ever tried to escape sugar in the first place. I only noticed I gained weight months later when I looked through pictures.

9. I decided spending more than four bucks on a meal was splurging.

It is more expensive to cook your own food than go out for some street pad thai or pnang curry. Some of my favorite go-to restaurants cost no more than three dollars for a bowl of mouth-watering khao soi.

10. I stopped associating red trucks with fire stations.

As mentioned earlier, fire was far from my mind. I didn’t find many buses in Thailand except for those going long distances. Instead I jumped into the back of red trucks with friends, which was a much easier and affordable way to get around.

11. I gave up my Puritan work ethic.

In Thailand there is little room for overworking at the expense of relationships with people and family. There is so much more to life than a job. I doubt I’ll ever go back to 80-hour work weeks.

12. I got over my fear of scooters and motorcycles.

“Are you a good driver?” was the single qualifying question renters asked me before handing over the keys to a scooter. Nothing beats zooming down lush green roads or the satisfaction of weaving past stopped traffic on the back of a motor bike. The locals agree, and you’d be hard pressed to find a more affordable or more exhilarating way to get around.

13. I forgot about life before weekly massages.

There is a parlor on almost any street in the cities charging five bucks an hour for a deep tissue massage. Once I got over my American anxiety about human touch and my apprehension about being twisted into a pretzel, there was no going back.

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