Be forewarned, I’m going on a rant on this Mindful Monday. (Okay fine, I’ll stop with the speaking in the third person thing…)
At the Sunday night market, we witnessed a case of cultural disrespect that was just one-act too many for me. To us, traveling in another country (or any place outside your own home for that matter) comes with great responsibility. We are GUESTS, and as such, need to act in a respectful manner toward the people in our host country. You are not just a tourist, going to have a smashing good time, but you are also a diplomat of the country listed on the cover of the passport you are holding.
I’m not really into preachy “How to behave …” type posts, but tonight I’m making an exception. I made a list of things one should or should not do, based on what I’ve learned here in Chiang Mai:
- Stand up. Here in Thailand, to our knowledge, many public places will broadcast the national anthem at 8am and 6pm, and the appropriate thing to do is to follow what the Thais do: Stand up, be silent, be respectful. Once the anthem ends, then go about your business. We witnessed many a tourist, who, despite seeing everyone standing still, continue walking, talking, or even eating! One couple tonight was sitting down, chowing down, even though it was quite obvious everyone around them was standing for the anthem.. Hey, I’m not asking you to be a Thai loyalist. It’s not about politics, it’s about being polite. I’ve attended Christian weddings, Catholic Masses, and Buddhist ceremonies. I went through the appropriate motions in each occasion. Being a conformist here isn’t a bad thing. You’re being polite in someone else’s home. In addition, the answer is “Yes” to the question, “Should I stand when they play the King’s song in the movie theater?”
- Wear a shirt. Is that too much to ask? I’ve seen too many touristy dudes and expats here who walk around completely shirtless. Hey, FYI guys, Chiang Mai is not a beach town, nor is it Khao San Road, where that might be normal. This week we witnessed this dude strut around Chiang Mai gate like he was the second coming. If his biceps weren’t the size of my legs, I would have said something to his face. Instead, I’m writing about him from the safety of our blog. Want a starter for appropriate attire? “A” wrote up a great summary of Do’s and Don’ts when visiting Buddhist Temples. Yeah, the weather is mild here, but you’re not in Miami Beach, Venice Beach, or any ‘beach’ for that matter. The wonderful moat surrounding the old city is not an excuse to go topless, okay? There’s an appropriate place for that (lack of) attire, and it isn’t here…it just makes you look narcissistic (which you are, shirtless dude) and oblivious to the local norms.
- Drive like a local. You might assume by watching Thai traffic from afar that it’s “Anything goes!” However, once you ride around consistently, you’ll see there is an order to the madness. I ride daily (I’ve come a long way since this post), and I see the vast majority of motorbike riders and vehicles use their turn signals. Nearly all pass you on the right side, and rarely will anyone honk at you out of spite, but to warn you that they are behind you. Thais are very patient, even when you clog up the left lane near a traffic light where motorbikes can take a left. No one will honk at you. I’ve seen many foreigners (usually in packs) who zoom around traffic like others are standing still. Is that how you act in someone’s home? You’re not six, so grow up and drive and ride responsibly, will you? The streets aren’t a playground for you to run amok, so tone it down and be safe. Oh, and put on the helmet, even if the many of the locals don’t.
- This seems to go without saying, but don’t get offended when a Thai person doesn’t speak English. Wake up and smell the Thai coffee (while we’re on the topic, we recommend Akha Ama Coffee. Go say Hi to Lee and Jenny!)! I recommend that each time you’re frustrated by a person’s lack of English skills, think about how much Thai you know… Yeah, it should go without saying, but we still see the impatient tourists giving Thais the dirty look.
- The “Smoothie Lady” has a name, and it isn’t “Smoothie Lady.” People have names. I’m issuing a challenge to travelers, and our Team Chiang Mai friends, including yours truly, to start addressing the Thai people that we’ve grown to love and admire by their actual NAMES, not by cute nicknames, like the “Samosa Lady,” “Smoothie Lady,” “Soup Guy,” “Potato Lady,” or “My maid” and so on. Those of us who have stayed in Chiang Mai for more than a few weeks really have a responsibility to be, again, respectful to our hosts, and the first step would be to know their names. I am totally guilty of this, and rationalized it as using terms of endearment, but really these nicknames are dehumanizing at some level, especially to someone who is older. Hey, we can’t know all the merchants’ names, but for those we’ve made a connection with, we should try. We’ve run into several of the friendly Thais outside of their work context, and seems silly to think of them as the “Smoothie Lady” when standing next to them in seven-eleven.
You get the drift… I can’t list every single ‘rule’ of good behavior, but as long as you are mindful that you’re someone’s guest, you’re probably doing well wherever you go. Try to leave a positive impression in the places you visit. That’s what we try to do.
By the way, our friend (at Chiang Mai gate area) Smoothie Lady’s name is Ms. Pha. That’s a first step…
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