Of course, a foreigner can never become completely ‘Thai’, but there may come a time, if you are in Thailand as an expat for long enough, that you will transform into a ‘Bangkok local’. Here are some tips to speed up this process:
Immerse Yourself in the Language
Most expats will learn Thai to a level where they can order food and have basic communication skills, but to go fully Bangkok local you need to be able to read Thai to a level where you can actually read books in Thai and be fairly fluent. Arguably, it is almost impossible to properly learn to speak Thai fluently unless you can read Thai, as the subtleties of the tones in the Thai language will not be as clearcut and pronunciation will be a lot harder to nail down.
Plastic Bands and Bags
The next thing to learn is how to tie a plastic bag using just a rubber band, and also how to undo a plastic band on a plastic bag without cussing at it. Thai people are adept at using plastic bags for all sorts of things, such as carrying food and drinks. If you really want to go for it, start using CDs as reflectors or decorate your home with them.
Go Deep into Thai Culture
First and foremost, you need to people watch and keenly observe what is going on around you. You’d be surprised how many expats are in Thailand, but their mind is somewhere else, making them oblivious to what is happening around them. Then, read up on Thai history and folklore. Quite a few cultural nuances have their roots in Thai folklore and historical events and you will never quite grasp them unless you educate yourself first. Also, study Buddhism as this is the backbone of Thai culture. From here you’ll start to observe all sorts of cultural nuances, such as when a seller brushes their product with a 500 baht note for good luck after the first purchase of the day, or that Thai people run from the first downfall of rain, not because they are scared of rain, but that a large amount of pollution falls with the first raindrops, causing potential illness. So if it starts raining run to shelter as soon as possible, and if your expat friends ask you why you are afraid of the rain, you can then enlighten them as to why.
The Art of Meandering
There is one true sign that an expat has not yet become a Bangkok local, and that is when you see an expat walking in a dead straight line. As you will already know, walking through a crowded shopping centre by attempting to walk in a straight line will only end up in frustration and failure. To master the elusive art of ‘meandering’ Bangkok local style, first of all you’ll need to lose the watch; you’ll need to reprogram your Westernised brain to not be so tied in achieving this and that in the shortest possible time, as arguably, what’s the point as we’re all going to die eventually anyhow. So, take off the watch and meander, enjoy life, stroll this way and that without any planned direction. If you truly master the art or meandering, you should have other expats sighing and getting frustrated as they try to pass you. Also when you arrange a time to meet with a friend, do not rush to turn up exactly on time, turn up from anywhere up to three hours afterward. In general, chill out more.
Toilet Paper, Small Dogs, Herbs and Can Buses
Another sign that you are a Bangkok local, or are transitioning to become a Bangkok local, is when you see toilet paper for what it truly is. If you sit and think about it, the sprayers in the toilets in Thailand are way more hygienic than using toilet paper, for reasons that are obvious. So ditch the toilet paper and plumb in a butt sprayer into your bathroom if you don’t already have one. If you haven’t already done so, buy a small dog and carry it under your arm, as well as taking at least 1000 pictures of it then posting them on Facebook and Instagram. Another Bangkok local sign is if you are able to identify herbs in the wild and can stop to pick them if you see some by the roadside; Thai people are much more in tune with herbs than most westerners are for example. Most expats have ridden in a song taew, but to go really Bangkok local you will need to have ridden the can busses – those small four wheeled vehicles that look like a cross between a song taew and a tuk-tuk.
Life Beyond Beer
If you drink alcohol as an expat, it’s highly likely that you will mostly drink beer primarily. You need to go beyond beer by trying Lao Dong (a very strong herbal alcoholic drink) at a local Lao Dong roadside open-air bar, and also Thai rice wine. If you drink whisky, instead of ordering whisky by the shot in tourist areas and paying the earth, drink in real Thai areas where you can buy a bottle of whisky and store it behind the bar if you don’t finish it free of charge.
A Word of Warning
Never go too Bangkok local. If you find yourself watching Korean series all day, stuffing 10,000 fluffy toys along the rear window shelf of your car, turning your motorcycle mirrors in because you may see a ghost, taking the back light out of your motorbike as a sign that you are in a motorbike gang or start hysterically screaming and fainting when you see a Korean pop star on TV, then . . . you’ve gone too far.