Traveling Light and Tiptoeing Through Cross-Cultural Relationships

You would think that a long marriage or lengthy relationship between a Thai and a Westerner would mean that cross cultural differences just didn’t exist anymore or at least were minimal. Well, this is certainly not the case with regards to Ben and Waan who have been married for close to 30 years and living in England the majority of that time.

But, is it just culture that makes us all different? Not according to Christopher Wright in the book ” Cross-Culture.” The book itself is written in Thai, but he points to three different factors that cause us to be different.

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” 1.  วัฒนธรรมที่แตกต่าง (culture)

2. อุปนิสัยกับบุคลิกส่วนตัวที่แตกต่าง (Personality)

3.  ประสบการณ์ชีวิตที่แตกต่าง (Personal Experience ” –  ” Cross-Culture” –  by Christopher Wright (p.21)

Number One = Watthanatham thii dtaaek dtang: Different culture

Number Two = Oop pa ni sai gap book kha lik suan dtua thii dtaaek dtang: Different personalities

Number Three = Prasopgaan chiwit thii dtaaek dtang: Different personal experiences

์ีSo, the combination of personality, personal experience and culture maketh the man or woman as the case may be and that’s when it all gets interesting. I mean just returning to Thailand for a visit is enough to highlight some of these differences with regards to Ben and Waan.

Traveling Light

Ben was a travel light kind of guy or at least take as little as he possibly could. In fact he had recently been practicing minimalist living and only keeping what he really valued in life, he found great joy in throwing away the unwanted. It was his way of establishing focus and simplicity and he really believed in this.

Waan was a collector a hoarder, a buyer of stuff and that stuff drove Ben mad. This stuff was in the form of shoes, clothes, cooking pots and pans, useless ornaments, second-hand furniture or just stuff as Ben called it. The basic truth of the matter was as fast as Ben cleared clutter out of the back door, Waan brought in new clutter through the front door. Traveling together back home to Thailand proved to be no different as far as clutter was concerned.

After so many previous trips back to Thailand Ben had mastered the art of getting his luggage in to one carry on board the plane bag and was proud of this accomplishment. As he was fond of claiming, how much clothes do you need for the tropics? Most of his clothes were underwear, shorts, favourite neatly folded T-shirts with a pair of sandals thrown in for good measure. His aircraft attire for the trip out and back – he was wearing and that included the jacket for the home trip. I mean there was no getting away from that, you nearly always needed a jacket for England. Add to this the essential wash bag and two or three books for the stay and Ben was done.

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Neatly folded T-shirts

Ben felt good about this. The thought of not having to haul heavy luggage around all over the place from bus to taxi and where ever else pleased him greatly. You see Ben was a fan of convenience and of having minimal amount of upheaval. Ben had requested to Waan that there be only one suitcase and no more and he was quite adamant about this. Come to think of it, where was Waan? She’s cutting it a bit fine as they leave in 40 minutes.

Detailed Planning Versus Off The Cuff

Ben was a bit of a stickler for time and punctuality, he liked to plan things and paid a lot of attention to detail. Waan, on the other hand planned very little and just lived for the day. Come to think of it that was too far ahead, Waan lived for the moment whenever she possibly could. With them both at opposite ends of the spectrum on the issue of time you can imagine that lots of their quarrels were often about time and punctuality.

Waan as usual cut it fine again and came back with 20 minutes to spare before they leave for the airport. Ben had lost count of how often this happens, but the question of where an earth have you been brought forth no end of excuses about long queues at the shop and my friends made me food. Ben knows that this is at a crucial stage here, because if he loses his cool,then all could blow up. He knows the choices and he knows the results….

Choice 1: He accepts the excuses, gets the car packed, act like it never happened and they are airport bound.

Choice 2: He blows his top, she blows her top back and there is a big row and lots of stress before going away. After she will harbour the grudge for anywhere from 2 – 4 days.

Ben wisely selects choice number one, but you can tell by his face that choice number two was the choice he really wanted. Why on nearly all occasions that they were going somewhere did she disappear only to return either close to the time they were supposed to leave or in many cases after it. How many times had he rang to say where are you as we are late. The usual reply would be I am nearly home, I will be there very soon. After all these years it still confused and frustrated Ben, that there was never a precise measure of time stated of her actual return.

In the book called ” The Cultural Detective” by Christopher G. Moore the author points to the flexibility of the Thai language that might well play a part in this.

cultural Detective

” The phrase ” kamlang ja, ” which precedes a verb – for example, kamlang ja pai (about to leave), kamlang ja thueng (about to arrive) or kamlang ja set (about to finish) – is wonderfully flexible and open-ended. It avoids specifying any particular time as to when someone will actually show up for an appointment, finish a task or make up their mind. When you are expecting guests for dinner and they phone to say they are running late, they will likely say they are ” kamlang ja theung.” That can translate into anything from a few minutes to a couple of hours.” – ” The Cultural Detective” by Christopher G. Moore (p.21)

Where was I? Oh yeah, I know. Ben had requested to Waan that there be only one suitcase and no more and he was quite adamant about this.

More Than One Way To Skin A Cat

However, the mindset of Waan worked entirely in a different direction. If her husband had no suitcase and you were allowed a suitcase each, then she could have two suitcases and pass one-off as his. Yes, there would be the normal moaning and complaining from her husband and a bit of ranting and raving, but that I’ll soon pass, it always does. Who said that she can’t plan?

The key to the whole operation is the art of surprise say’s Waan: ” You give the husband the first suitcase to load in the car and when all is close to being loaded you bring out the second suit case. As he starts bursting blood vessels you lay the guilt trip about the family gifts to take and is it that you have no right to make your family happy after such a long time apart. The important thing is to stay with the ” do I have no right ” and ” do I not deserve ” mantras. It will probably be a quiet trip to the airport, but he’ll get over it.”

You know it really is impossible say’s Ben: ” no matter how much I state that I don’t want all this luggage, she still brings it. Not only that, but the Bangkok taxi driver ends up trying to cram it all in the boot… the poor sod. Now of course I look like the ogre as she’s played the ”do I not deserve card”. This line is trotted out when she wants me to feel guilty and to be quite honest I generally fall for it. If on calmer ground at the moment I’d ask why all this stuff is needed, but I know it’s a futile question. ”

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Bangkok Taxi’s

” There are clothes in the suit case that she wants to leave in her home town for her next visit to save taking them again, even though there are clothes already there from the last time she visited. In fact she could quite easily wear a different pair of shoes everyday of the stay and we are there for a month. Yes, her shoe collection could quite easily rival that of Imelda Marcos in her day. Add to this clothes for the niece’s new baby and winter jackets for everyone, because it’s the cold season and there you have it. In the end I give in just to be on the move, but the trip in the car to the airport is a quiet one, I can tell you.”

Time For Reflection

The peaceful drive as it were allows time for reflection and Ben wonders how an earth they can be as different as chalk and cheese on most things. Deeper thought probing causes him to wonder even after close to 30 years together, if they really know each other at all. A slight grin comes to his face as he remembers a passage in the book ” Watching the Thais by Tom Tuohy. The question is based on the old television program in England during the 1970’s called Mr. and Mrs.

Thais

” If you and your wife were asked ten questions about each other’s likes, dislikes, favourite food, colour, smell, or what irritates you both etc., how well do you think you’d score?” – Watching the Thais by Tom Tuohy (p.135)

The visualisation of them participating in the game show almost causes Ben to laugh and he really wants to ask Waan how she thinks they would get on. A quick glance sideways brings him back to reality as Wann has a face like thunder and now’s not the time he senses.

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