Elayne Clift


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Culture Shock

Elayne Clift, a regular contributor from Saxtons River, Vt., is spending a year teaching at Payap University in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

From Chiang Mai, Thailand, 15 August 05

“You have traveled to a different country full of new and different [experiences].  At first you will probably feel like a tourist enjoying all these new things, full of energy to see it all.  After a few weeks, however, you may find yourself with less energy and enthusiasm.  You may feel disoriented as new things change from exciting to strange and different.  This disorientation is called culture shock.  It is a natural phenomenon and will pass quickly.”

According to The Handbook for International Staff provided to me by Payap University, I’m right on schedule.  Now that work has started and I’m settling down to my new life and its busy routine, I seem to have entered the first stage of culture shock.  That’s when you feel less energetic, keep wondering what’s going on at home, and make a lot of comparisons between your new life and your old one.  Actually, I seem to be on the cusp of Stage One and Stage Two.  In Stage Two, apparently, you feel sleepy, perpetually hungry, and somewhat withdrawn.  I’m not too hungry yet, but I have a growing affection for my bed and I declined an invitation to dinner this weekend.  Most significantly in Stage Two, “you may find yourself getting irritated over minor things” and “being critical because Thais do not do things the way you do them, when your way is obviously better.”

Here are some of the minor things making me just a tad irritable and/or critical these days. 

In the first place, why doesn’t ANYONE here speak just a modicum of English?  Weren’t they colonized or something and aren’t they required to study English in school?  (The answer is yes to both questions, but neither seems to have made a bit of difference.)  Couldn’t they at least make the signs bilingual?

Why don’t drivers EVER stop for pedestrians, and why don’t those bloody motorbikes stay in the left lane especially designated for them?  For that matter, why can’t they drive on the right side of the road like every other civilized country (with all due respect to friends and family in the UK.)  Every time I get in my car I feel like an expatriate accident waiting to happen.  Motorbikes zooming everywhere and not a helmet in sight! 

Why can’t people stop implying that if I can’t take the heat I should get out of the country before March/April when summer comes?  Don’t they know that you NEVER tell a menopausal woman she shouldn’t feel quite so hot?

Why can’t there be fewer mosquitoes, or more geckos – those cute little household lizards -- to eat them (but preferably not on the roll of toilet paper just as you are about to use it)?  And why can’t those geckos shut up at night?  Don’t they ever sleep? 

Oh yeah?  Then how come I have to sign in and out of the university every day and wear skirts to teach?   Why do I have to be so careful never to touch the head of my neighbor’s baby and always to remove my shoes before entering a home or office?  Why am I never supposed to display emotion?

Mai pen rai.  Nevermind.  I will keep jai yen, a cool heart, and learn patience.  I will keep my perspective, stay open-minded, and realize that I represent the stereotypical farang, or foreigner, as my trusty handbook advises. I will “evaluate expectations” and “take the initiative,” although I can’t promise to “learn the language.” 

In the meantime, can someone please send me ice, a Thai translator, and a first aid kit for my car?  Hapun-KA!