Blog time: Culture Clashes in Pattaya, Thailand-
Today’s blog is going to be specifically focused on culture clashes in Pattaya and how it leads to the majority of conflicts and disputes that I see here. I’ve lived here for coming on six years now and since Pattaya is a tourist town that draws people in from all over the world from a variety of backgrounds and individual stories it tends to put together a melting pot of people. Add in a garnish of liquor and easily available female company and you will often have a stew that will sometimes have a bitter taste. Consider as well that many people who come to Pattaya are NOT well-traveled and have in fact done very little traveling outside of Thailand and their home country so in many cases have not been exposed to other cultures.
Guys ask me a lot if I have seen physical conflicts or fights here in Pattaya. The short answer is yes, many. It happens a lot more often then most people seem to think but the majority of people that visit Pattaya will never once get into a physical conflict nor even see one. In my own bar, I ran for five years before I never had an actual fight. We had one minor incident involving a sucker punch from one customer to another but it was disrupted and broken up quickly. I have, however, seen plenty of fights in associated bars and at other venues in Pattaya.
Liquor consumption in heavy amounts is often a reason but what I wanted to focus on and hopefully open some eyes is that the cultural differences between individuals from different countries are more often the underlying issue that stokes a situation. I’m going to look at a couple of different situations and a couple of common misconceptions and hope to clear them up. If this helps even one person for an upcoming holiday or to avoid a situation then I know I have not wasted my time writing this up. I’m also going to write a bit on how being proactive vs. being reactive will save you a lot of potential trouble here.
Let me preface by saying that the following examples in no way, shape or form define every single person from a country or represent the culture for millions of people. However, these are common examples that are seen often in Pattaya:
Example One: The wind-up. In some cultures, especially Australia and England, it is somewhat common to call people a “fucking cunt” as a friendly greeting or continually wind a person up with self jokes, insults, etc as a way of friendly banter. In other cultures, including a lot of America and Japan, this is NOT common. In fact, the word cunt is almost NEVER used in the states and most people tend not to wind each other up as much due to the lawsuit culture, threat of defamation of character, the public sensitivity issues, etc. This has taken me (And at times still taking) a lot of time to get used to. I’ve seen more than one fight here because someone is intending to simply give someone a friendly wind up and the other person takes it seriously and before you know it people come to blows. I personally don’t enjoy winding people or making fun of them but I understand why people do and to them, it is often a term of endearment vs. an actual insult. There are a lot of people here that will wind up others based on the country they are from. In most cases, it is harmless jokes and if I had one baht for every Donald Trump joke or comment over the last year I would be a rich man now.
Example Two: Indian/Arabs. (Again, by no means does this define or sum up every Indian or Arab but rather the ones who come here with no research, limited travel experience and cultural exposure outside of their own country.) I get asked almost daily about why many Indian and Arab men act the way they do in Pattaya. Specifically, walking hand in hand, having no rapport with the girls and asking very blunt and borderline rude questions, traveling in very large packs that approach the girls together, ordering one beer for six guys, etc. Well, let me cover a couple of things here as I have many close Arab and Indian friends and I have been here long enough that I understand why the majority of them do what they do.
First, in many cultures holding hands is simply a sign of friendship. In many countries holding hands with women or even talking to them outside of family members is shunned upon and culturally unacceptable. So when you see two men holding hands (unless you are in Boystown) they are often simply showing that they are good friends. They are not homosexual, they don’t consider it to be strange and it is quite a normal and comfortable thing for them to do so. In America, England, Australia, and most Western cultures it is almost unheard of for two male friends to hold hands as a sign of friendship so I often see comments and conflicts from this. The bottom line, the guys are simply friends and is a sign of friendship.
Second, blunt behavior and comments. I get asked often why, especially Arab men, will simply walk up to a girl in front of a bar and rather than buying a drink, asking her name, getting to know her a bit, introducing himself, etc. he will simply start asking very blunt questions or immediately start haggling on price. I alluded to the reason in my hand holding explanation but this is also a very simple reason. Due to the fact that these men normally come from countries where they have limited to zero interaction with females they never developed the social skillset that the majority of us from Western countries have. In some cases, this might be one of the very first conversations the man has EVER had with a woman that is not a family member. Additionally, many subcultures in that part of the world simply do not place the level of value to a female that many Western countries would and see them as essentially a product vs. a human being. This is no fault of their own but rather a direct byproduct of the culture and upbringing they have had. Once you understand this it makes a lot more sense why people act the way they do.
Third, Indian, Pakistani and Arab men travel in very large packs. There is a myth (Yes, it might occasionally happen but for the most part it is a myth) that when ten men approach a single girl in front of a bar that all ten men want to take her. This is generally not true. In most of India, as demonstrated by hand-holding, friendship is taken very seriously. The concept of giving people some space simply does not exist. As with China, it is perfectly normal and comfortable for a large number of friends and family members to share the same room or even the same bed. Therefore, when one man suggests to the others that he wants to go talk to a girl for a minute the other friends will simply accompany their friend. They do not get intimidated by large groups of people and it is not unusual to them. In Western countries if one of our friends wants to talk to someone for a minute or check something we will normally give them a moment, give them their space and wait nearby until they are finished. This is not the case here.
Fourth, ordering one beer for six men, etc. This is actually fairly rare. However, I have seen it happen. Generally, the reason is not frugalness as people think but rather that drinking in India, Russia, and YES Thailand is a GROUP activity. The concept of drinking in bars in many of these countries simply doesn’t happen. The English or American bar where you will have many solo drinkers minding their own business and drinking alone is seen as strange and unusual to many of these people. What generally happens is one person will order a beer, in Thailand a large Leo or in India a Kingfisher and share it with their friends as an act of kindness. Then, when finished, the next person in the group will pay for a beer and so on and so on as they share drinking as a group activity. If you have been to a Thai BBQ or a Thai Karaoke you will see this is very common in Thailand too. Although thriftiness does happen often the primary reason this is done is a sign of friendship and to make drinking a group activity. Consider also the fact that eating is a group activity in most of Asia and eating at a restaurant alone is very unusual for the culture here. Indeed you will sometimes see up to seven or eight Thai girls sharing a single dish of 40 baht Som Tam. It doesn’t have to do with saving money but rather the group activity of eating.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that many of the tourists from these countries that come here have been brought on a package tour or a company-sponsored trip and have NEVER left their home country before, done ZERO research on Thailand or Pattaya and literally have no idea what is going on. Essentially it is a prime example of taking a fish out of water. Understanding this fact and respecting it usually helps soothe any potential poor situation.
Hopefully, this helps shed some light on this.
Example 3: Russians
Russians get a very bad rap here in Pattaya and for the most part, I feel it is undeserved and generally from a lack of understanding of their culture. Russians are a strength-based culture and especially older Russians come from a communist background where the state primarily runs every function of one’s life. I often hear people asking me why Russians seem comfortable on Pattaya Beach or swimming in the ocean here which is not the cleanest beach in the world, to say the least. Well, if you lived in Siberia in the winter you would likely also enjoy the beach here :).
It is a myth that Russians don’t spend money. Many of them spend quite a bit, albeit on shopping, tourist attractions, hotels, and food. They do not spend their money in bars and gogos. As with Indian culture bars in Russia outside of the major cities such as Moscow are fairly uncommon. Drinking is, as most people know, a major activity in Russia but it is generally done as a group activity in a social setting. My Russian friends that get liquor from 7-11 and go to the beach or walk around the city are not actually being frugal but rather they do not understand why Westerners would want to sit in a small, in their mind boring, bar when they could be enjoying the freedom of movement, the night air, the beach, the wind, etc.
Most Russians here are not college educated and are not from the major cities. They have limited to no world travel experience and speak little or no English. They were raised in a culture that taught them to fear the Western world (Indeed, many of us were raised in cultures that taught us to fear Russia, especially those of us a bit older who remember the Cold War. That was obviously before my time but I have studied it extensively as I have always been fascinated by history and diplomatic relations between individual countries.) and as a result, have little to no experience with Westerners or Asians for that matter.
What one person would consider as rude is simply normal to someone in their culture. Smiling is reserved for close family members and friends in the majority of Russian society and when one smiles all the time or often Russian culture generally sees that person as an idiot and that they have something to hide. Once you befriend a Russian however they can be some of the most loyal friends you can have and generous as well.
Finally, yes Russians tend to ignore queues and walk straight up to a counter, etc and this tends to frustrate people. In many parts of rural Russia queues simply don’t exist (As well as India and China) and for the older Russians who remember the days when they had to get their food staple from the market and literally if you did not shove your way to the front of the line you starved it’s a hard lesson to forget. A calm, simple reminder to them that you were there first will often suffice.
Example 4: Americans.
You didn’t think I would actually write this without touching on my own country, did you? Americans can sometimes be the most frustrating and difficult customers to handle and a lot of this is culture-based as well. If you look at Pattaya news stories it is often Americans that tend to get in trouble over here, murdered, a mystery suicide, etc. Australians and English have trouble with this as well but it goes back to simple cultural differences that escalate out of control generally.
First, most Americans don’t travel outside of America. They have been raised in a culture that tells them consistently and constantly they are the greatest nation in the world and the greatest people. We were taught in school that the rest of the world is essentially dangerous and scary and America is better. World history is often ignored or marginalized in American schools and barely touched upon. This is actually quite like Russia if you think about it. This is where a lot of the superiority complex comes from that tends to frustrate other people.
Secondly, Americans have a VERY high customer service culture. This is rooted in our lawsuit friendly culture as well but many people do agree that world-class customer service is common in many areas in American business. When an American gets to Pattaya and gets rude, uncaring or poor service they also react poorly. This is usually when things start to go wrong. It’s very common in America for one to use yelp, the better business bureau or social media to write critical reviews of restaurants, hotels, etc. As I have discussed previously this can get one in serious trouble in Thailand due to the slander laws here.
Thirdly, many Americans get upset about the “principle” of a situation. It’s not about being screwed out of ten baht, for instance, its the principle of being screwed out of it. This and my second point cause most of the major conflicts that one has seen in the news including the well-publicized one from a year ago in which an American decided to argue over a 6 dollar US taxi fare because of slow service and the principle of the situation and the taxi driver ended up attacking and killing him with a machete.
Finally, it’s my belief that once an American, Russian, Indian, etc has traveled some they start to understand different cultures, become more appreciative of them and have a better concept of how to behave in different situations. Hopefully, this gives you some idea of just a few of the different countries and people that come here and why some folks act the way they do. Feedback is welcome but I will delete any “I hate this country or person” type of posts.