AN EXPAT IN PATTAYA STILL TRYING TO UNDERSTAND THE CULTURE
by Kevin Cain
Like many people who end up living as an Expat in some strange and foreign land it was never planned that I would settle and live in Pattaya or even Thailand for that matter. My journey came totally unexpectedly and out of personal misfortune. Recovering from a serious illness I found that living in a tropical climate was ideal for my condition and bit by bit my migration became permanent.
Every Expat has a story and most are involved and complicated, you never quite meet the ordinary Joe thousands of miles from home and stories differ from heartbreak to business ventures and even plain mistakes.
My journey has finally taken me to live on the Gulf of Thailand and my home has been Pattaya City for the last five years. The initial Thai language course was my first foray into trying to understand my new countrymen and to be honest it was a bit of a disaster. Languages were never my forte but at least European languages have a Latin derivative you can normally work things out from. But trying to learn to speak Thai for a Ferang is like learning to speak for the first time.
So how can you possibly understand a new culture if you cannot understand what is being said? Relying on the hope that the other person can speak English seems to be most Expat's policy and that is the underlying problem for all Ferangs. I had to go in search of another way to understand my hosts and it came to me that something more simple should be looked at.
UK does not really have a food culture but I soon became aware that food is a uniting factor for all Thais and something you can understand. What to eat, when to eat and most importantly how to eat can give you an insight as to how the Thai people think. Thais take time out to sit down together and eat, whether it be as a family unit or just a group of friends they take the opportunity to chat about their day over a bowl of noodles or some soup.
Understanding the simple ritual of daily life such as meal times can open the door to understanding of a culture that is difficult for a westerner to comprehend. My formal Thai classes were not nearly so educational as my dinner times natterings in crowded restaurants, and although some of the phrases and words are slang I found myself slowly being understood.
That is not to say because I can speak Taxi Cab Thai I can fully understand this alien and exotic culture, because I definitely do not. After five years of trying to ingratiate myself and to blend into society as a local, I still feel as far away from my goal as ever. Sometimes I just give up, put some decent Soul music on my iPod and drift back to different days. Then an hour later some bizarre and unrelated event will remind me of why this place is so wonderful and to spur my understanding to greater levels.