I love my country (the USA), but as you’d expect of any country that constitutes approximately 4.5% of the world’s population and 6.5% of the world’s land mass, it has its share of problems.
Particularly given its history with Native and African Americans, geographic divide, racial/ethnic makeup (approx. 63% white, 17% Hispanic/Latino, and 13% African American), and income inequality (according to Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who lost to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries, the top 0.1% of Americans have as much wealth as the bottom 90%), it’s seemingly impossible to appease everyone in the world’s biggest melting pot.
And while I try my best to put my country in the best light possible, admittedly, at times, I lose my cool and go off on rants about what I perceive to be some of America’s biggest problems (primarily gun violence, inequality and the cost of college tuition).
But as an American, and particularly given our steadfast belief in our 1st Amendment right to freedom of speech, for better or worse, I have that right.
As an expat in Bangkok, however, nothing irks me more than when other, fellow expats, talk poorly about Thailand.
Putting aside the fact that I think Thailand (and Bangkok in particular) is wonderful and probably my favorite country of the 50-plus that I’ve been fortunate enough to visit, what bothers me the most is: why do these people think they have the right to complain about a country that they’re voluntarily living in?
Of course, if you’re living in Thailand, or any country that’s not your own, not through your own volition (e.g., as a political refugee or on a forced work assignment), or alternatively if you’ve married a local person, had a child with a local or otherwise committed yourself to living there permanently (by purchasing a retirement home, for instance), then you’ve likely earned your right to complain, as you’re presumably as invested in the country as a local citizen.
But if you move to another country voluntarily, without the intention of staying permanently, where do you get off criticizing it?
It would be like visiting someone’s home and then telling them that they’ve decorated the place incorrectly, or eating at someone’s house and then telling them the meal was inedible.
In response to my last article titled 6 Things I Wish My Family & Friends Understood About Thailand, I was completely taken aback by the number of negative comments proclaiming Bangkok (and Thailand generally) to be a filthy, uncivilized, “third-world” city (and country).
Equally surprising were the number of personal attacks made on me for merely heralding, what I perceive to be, the many wonders of the Kingdom. Below are just a few of the comments I received in response to my last post:
- “The fact that Thailand is a third-world country (hopefully soon second world) does not make it less attractive or liveable…It just makes the author really retarded…”
- “Go and see more places around the world…you will get your facts rite”; again, for the record, I’ve been to over 50 countries on 6 continents
- “Bangcrooks a first world city? Wow, it may take me all day to recover from this one…The only first class thing in Bangcrooks may be the prices around Sukhumvit and the hookers!!!”
- “First class world city but a population sub third world people.”
- “They must have forgotten to post this article on 1st April”
- “How much were you paid by TAT [Tourism Authority of Thailand] mate for this wax eloquent style article?”
What was even more surprising, however, was when I looked at the Facebook profiles for some of these people: low and behold, many of them were foreigners currently residing in Bangkok or elsewhere in Thailand.
Now granted, I can’t be certain of the circumstances under which they reside here, but I’ll go out on a limb and hypothesize that at least some, if not the vast majority, of them are here on their own volition and are not committed to remaining here permanently.
As an aside, for every naysayer in response to my last article, there was a respectful expat (or Thai) coming to my defense. For example:
- “Being a fellow American living in Bangkok, I experience the same questions from friends and family in the states. My mother-in-law even questioned our decision to move our children to such a ‘dangerous place’. I feel so much safer (and happier) here.”
- “Well written and have to agree with it. Love the bit about feeling safer here. When the Coup happened I remember getting phone calls and texts from back home asking me if I am safe. Found that rather amusing.”
- “Why tell the whole world how great we have it here?”
- “David Rosenfield, enjoy your life. Never mind the haters. You know what’s best for you…”
- “You wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve been asked, ‘do you live in a jungle?’ Actually yes, a concrete one.”
All of this brings me to the point of this article: how do you get away with criticizing a country that you voluntarily moved to, that was kind enough to take you in, when presumably it’s better than your home country or anywhere else you might be able to live?
It’s one thing to criticize your own country, as many people don’t have the luxury of moving abroad and so criticizing your own is seemingly the only way (or at least the starting point) to achieve significant change. But how you have the nerve, particularly publicly, to criticize a country that’s so graciously adopted you, is beyond me. It’s like biting the hand that feeds you.
Or as one of the readers and commenters to my last article, Kevin, so aptly put it:
I’m seriously sick of reading farang whining about everything related to Thailand and Thai people, yet they stay put in the Kingdom and refuse to leave. When we travelled to western world we were told to follow their ways of living as a matter of respect, but when some of these westerners visit Asia they demand things to be done as according to how they want them! Rubbish! Absurd!…You do not live on the land of others yet look down on them!
I agree with Kevin. Thailand, and the Thai people, have been nothing but overly kind to me and my wife in our three wonderful years here.
Are there things I would like to see changed here? Sure.
Controlling the wild soi dogs (one of which bit my wife right outside our apartment complex), the dual pricing system and the sudden illegalization of shishas/hookahs, just to name a few. But these are seemingly innocuous things (well, maybe not the soi dogs) that most rational people would probably agree are problems that could be remedied fairly easily.
But to criticize the basic fundamental aspects of the country you’ve voluntarily chosen to live in, publicly, and with such hostility, seems crazy to me. And completely ungrateful and disrespectful too.
The situation reminds me a lot of the way some of the foreign teachers I work with at my university act towards the school and its administration.
For me and my wife, this is far and away the best job we’ve both ever had. Sure, I make literally 5% of what I used to make back in the US, but I also get four months paid vacation a year (compared to two weeks), work 15-20 hours/week (compared to 50-70), get free housing (compared to $3000/month rent in NYC), get free transportation between our city and suburban campuses (compared to $200/month in public transport costs back in the US), get a free round trip flight home every other year, and most importantly, enjoy the thought of going into work every day and actually look forward to returning to work after a long holiday.
From how you hear some of my coworkers describe our job, however, you’d think it was like a prison sentence.
In fact, in one faculty meeting last year, in response to a newly imposed rule which requires teachers to ‘clock in’ for 30 hours a week even if they’re only teaching 15 hours a week, one particular teacher had the audacity to ask the Dean, in front of 200 or so colleagues, the obviously rhetorical question, “When is it going to end?” (as in the additional rules, which even considering, still make it the best job I’ve ever had, by far).
Another teacher had the equal nerve to publicly imply that teachers who reside on the suburban campus (including the Dean) don’t have a life. If I had been in charge, I would have fired both of those teachers on the spot. Our Dean, being more tolerant than me, instead told them they could leave whenever they wanted.
In short, while I love my job, to hear my co-workers talk disrespectfully about it really pisses me off.
To me, these teachers show the same disrespect that expats show when they publicly complain about living in Thailand.
If you don’t like it, then why are you still living here? My only surmise is because it must be better than whatever their lives were like back in their home countries, or anywhere else they might feasibly be able to live. But as my mother once told me, if you don’t have anything nice to say, then you shouldn’t say anything at all.
And while some may call me crazy, since Thailand is technically a military-controlled country, a fact that many expats also like to complain about, if I were the Thai government, I would consider trolling the expat websites and looking for expats talking negatively about the country that’s so graciously taken them in.
And if they find repeat offenders or expats who refuse to refrain from speaking ill about Thailand, I would revoke their visas and send them back to their home countries.
I suspect a few weeks back in their home country and they’ll be regretting all the negative things they said about Thailand. And likely seeking forgiveness and an opportunity to sing Thailand’s praises, which are abundant.
Featured image is by Björn Bechstein (used under a CC BY-ND 2.0 licence)