By: Siri Wieringa and Kaylene Moulton
Being immersed in a new culture, there are differences that everyone will notice compared to their own culture. Some people may not notice the same differences as others, but some of the differences we noticed are the treatment of animals, the definition of beauty, obsession with working out and sense of community among the population. Traveling all over the country, we have noticed all of these differences in every place we have visited.
In the U.S. animals are part of the family and are treated that way. My own dog is so spoiled and if we take him in the car with us he has to have ice water or else he won’t drink it. In the U.S. it is also a requirement that you have your animal spayed or neutered. If you adopt an animal from a pound, they will normally have the animal fixed for you. Looking at the treatment of animals in Thailand they are treated like animals. Many people can say that it is good that they are treated that way because they are animals but it was really hard for me to get used to. I also haven’t seen one animal that has been fixed which will result in too many stray animals.
Another difference that we noticed was the definition of beauty. In the U.S. people love to tan. There are tanning salons, spray tans, self tanner and laying out on the beach or poolside. In Thailand everyone wants to have light skin. Paul, one of the Thai students, and I were talking about how he wants my color skin and I would like to have his. I really don’t understand why there is such a difference in Americans wanting dark skin and Thais wanting light skin. In drug stores, all of their soap and lotions have skin lightening in it. Most of these products can damage the skin permanently. Also, we think the heat is hard to deal with and if we could, we would probably wear as little clothes as possible. For Thais and especially farm workers, they are covered up at all times from head to toe. I guess the reason for this is everyone wants what they can’t have.
In the United States we are raised to be independent individuals with freedom to do and say as we please. In this way, there is a constant drive to be the best that we can be because we have the opportunity to do so. We are encouraged to always think for ourselves to help us to be on an independent successful path in life. Rarely do we know where our food comes from for the 3+ meals we eat a day, rarely do we have close relationships with everyone in our extended families and rarely do we have gratitude for the tremendous amount of material wealth the majority of us possess.
From what I have noticed being in Thailand, the ideals of being independent are not nearly as encouraged. Children here grow up with their entire family, having a close relationship to their relatives. Many children (especially in the rural villages) are encouraged and expected to work at a very young age to provide for their family. There is a tremendous amount of respect and gratitude for their heritage, for their family and the food that is available to fuel them. This amazing amount of gratitude is present because every person in the community is involved in those things manifesting.
Thailand is also 90% Buddhist meaning that the majority of people here believe that it is our duty in life to help one another and give/share what we have no matter how poor we are. I could really see that belief in action when we visited the Aids Hospice. People who have Aids or HIV come from all over the world to stay at this hospice because they are treated like humans. Not as infected aliens. The belief of the people who started this hospice is that with love, compassion and humanity they can return strength and hope to AIDS sufferers, who were abandoned by their families and shunned by the world, to get back on their feet and give them the will to fight the disease. Many countries, including the United States, have a very different view on AIDS and HIV, which makes it hard for any long term change to occur on the perceptions of it. Seeing the AIDS hospice here in Thailand gave me hope that change can occur with love and compassion.
Our stay here in Thailand has opened my eyes to the differences in beliefs between the United States. Gratitude is missing in our culture. With it we would be a much more cohesive and efficient country. I hope that through this experience I can transfer some of what we have learned from the Thai culture, to our communities at home.