Continuing the expat advice series, FT Residential focuses on Bangkok this time. We invite readers to participate in a short survey and share their tales from around the world and the lessons they learned.
Academic Alex Hay recently returned to the UK after eight years in Bangkok. He worked at Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University and lived in the central neighbourhood known as Sukhumvit.
The number-one hurdle for expats in Bangkok is Thai culture. Embrace it or leave.
The first thing to understand is that respecting the Thai monarchy is paramount. People have been imprisoned for publicly stating historical facts about the royals, so never mention them in public — even if you’re sure no one speaks English.
Second, you need to understand that Thais view time as a circle: if you wait long enough, things will come back to the way they were. As a result, little importance is placed on planning or punctuality — being 30 minutes late is considered on time.
Third, while Westerners tend to value individuality, Thais emphasise social interactions and groups. For many it is perfectly fine to miss an event because they have bumped into someone on the street, as that social interaction (or keeping face) far outweighs the benefits of the event itself.
Only by learning the basics of the language and trying to understand the culture can you truly make an impact, professionally or socially. I missed out on communications affecting my promotion opportunities because I used email, not Line (a type of WhatsApp), for “official” messages.
Living in Bangkok can be maddening at times; but with the downs come incredible ups.
What I wish I’d known before moving: Don’t ever, under any circumstances, get angry at someone. You’ll lose all respect and it will take a lot for people to see that you’re not always like that.
Photographs: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images; Dmitry Rukhlenko/Alamy
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