When I was a Waldorf teacher, I remember having one of those dreaded Second Grade parent meetings. But instead of the usual “please get me outta here” scenario, one of the parents asked question that prompted an answer I’ve yet to forget.
“Sadie has such good manners. She’s a very polite child. What did you tell her, so I can tell my kid?”
“I showed Sadie my passport and asked her if she knew what this was. She didn’t, so I explained that this little book allowed her to visit other countries. I gave it to her to look at. Then I talked about good manners, using ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ is like a passport too, if she kept it in her pocket, she could use it to travel the world.”
What followed were Ooos and Ahhhs, nods and smiles, and rightly so. I wish more parents would take the time to teach their children the importance of manners, which is really a form of respect. Of course, I’m not blaming parents, that’s another jar of curry paste.
It’s amazing what tourists get away with to the tune of “I’m on holiday” in Thailand. But perhaps amazing is the wrong word. I think we have to be conscious of using any excuse as a means to behave poorly. Alcohol, drugs and even the words, “I’m worth it” just seem like sidesteps to the truth. If you want to act like a fool, just say it and own up to it.
But if you are an American, could you not do it here? I have to admit, I get embarrassed when I hear or see a fellow US citizen acting stupid on vacation. When they are Aussie, Kiwis, Brits or Brats, I feel so much better. I know I’m a horrible person for thinking this way. I guess we all want to feel good about where we hail from and when someone does something to tarnish our already delicate reputation, well, it stinks.
To be sure, anyone who has lived here has their tourists-behaving-badly story. I remember a friend telling me that at Immigration she saw a backpacker put his muddy boots on the counter. Regardless of how the Thais feel about feet (lowest, dirtiest part of the body), putting your shoes on the counter or any place where you are conducting business, is a bad idea.
Another friend told me about a drunk woman (?) who cut in line at 7-11, she was being obnoxious, speaking loudly and saying in her defense, “What? They do it all the time.” Everyone just politely smiled and let her jump the cue. I find her comment interesting and a clear indication she felt the need for “redemption”.
Here are more examples, along with tips on how to behave and misbehave in the Land of Smiles:
I remember one of my Thai teachers, who is pretty good-natured, telling us a story about how some foreigner was going off about how Thais were stupid. Since her English is excellent is was able to retort, much to the shock of the tourist/expat/random White guy.
I’m fairly relaxed about tourists, I guess because I grew up in one of the most touristic places in the US, Hawaii. So I’ve seen a lot of tender sunburned pink flesh and matching Aloha wear. Other dead giveaways are Mustang convertible rent-a-cars, maps and Teva sandals. Locals were slippahs or flip flops.
So, I usually can turn a glass eye away from tourists, but when I saw three 20somethings, two of which were bare chested (folks think CM is the beach), strutting down Ratchdamnoen with Akha Ama headgear I couldn’t help, but look horrified. Tribal headgear is sacred, it’s not even something that should be displayed as decoration.
Like I said, everyone has their story…and mine isn’t the last one, it’s the first of many.