As with any trip abroad, good planning is essential. More so than just making sure you pack your underwear (yeah, I forgot to do that once) having at the very least a cursory understanding of what to expect from a cultural perspective is paramount.
Spend any amount of time talking with someone who has been to Thailand, lived in Thailand, or read about Thailand, and chances are you will be inundated with warnings and stories about how completely 180-degree different Thai culture is to our own. For every person you find that loved it “over there” you will probably find at least five others that will find something about it to complain about. For some reason, Westerners think that everywhere they go should be set up specifically to accommodate their big, clumsy, foreign ways.
As with any trip abroad, good planning is essential. More so than just making sure you pack your underwear (yeah, I forgot to do that once) having at the very least a cursory understanding of what to expect from a cultural perspective is paramount. And so when I came across the book Culture Shock! Thailand: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to learn a little bit more about my wife’s homeland and the place that fascinates me so much.
But the question lingers: does the book provide enough information for us hulking, loud, sweaty farang to navigate through the murky canals and seedy side streets without losing ourselves?
Let’s find out…
First, I feel it’s important to point out that in many ways this book caters to the foreigner that plans on spending some significance of time (a year or longer) in-country. Though it contains a lot of information relevant to the everyday traveler, please advised that some of the topics covered may not directly apply to you. With that being said, the book is divided into the following chapters:
- First Impressions
- Land, History & Religion
- Fitting In
- The Practicalities
- Eating in Thailand
- Having Fun
- Learning Thai
- Thai Business
- Fast Facts at Your Fingertips
Out of the Gate…
The book started off well, giving me a few jabs and pokes to wake me up and let me know that it means business. Normally I’m very turned off by this, but since the book is titled “Culture Shock!” I can’t really be offended, right? There is nothing overtly shocking or revelatory here, but for someone new to Thai culture you will learn a few things.
Somewhere along the way the book kind of loses focus a bit. I think perhaps when it starts to get into some of the finer details about finding apartments, visas, etc. I can sort of understand why the author (Robert Cooper) included this information, but none of it really strikes me as a “culture shock.” I can only imagine that any trouble related to finding more permanent accommodations and getting visa and work papers in order can be a challenge in any country, so I don’t know if it necessarily adds much value to the book’s intended purpose. Unless, of course, the intended purpose was to give someone who was going to live in Thailand information about what to expect.
There is definitely a lot of important information. Things like not to touch the head of a Thai person, or taking your shoes off before entering a house… all of that should be included. But when Cooper starts to list specific Thai food dishes and making a note to tell us that when eating with friends we can just reach for and take whatever we want, it just seems a bit too, well, obvious. After a while the whole “shock” part of the book disappears and it just becomes a book of information that is pertinent to any kind of travel.
I would have included a section on Superstitions. Thai can be very superstitious, especially when it comes to ghosts. A little more information on Thai-farang relationships would probably benefit the reader, too.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the book is necessarily bad; not at all. Yes, I know that the subtitle is “A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette.” I get it. I just think that there is a bit of filler that could have been left out to keep it more focused. Also, all of the pictures in the book look like they were taken in the 1960’s. An update in the photography department is desperately required.
Overall, I think the book wasn’t bad. If you are new to the idea of visiting (or moving to Thailand) then this book might have some value to you. If you have been to Thailand several times or have read a lot of books before this one, you can probably pass on it.