When anyone asks me what they should do to move to Thailand, the first thing I tell them is what they shouldn’t do, which is visit Thailand’s expat forums.
The online expat forums are a throng of Thailand’s bitterest expats. Complaints fill threads. Attitudes are negative. Advice is horrible. When I was researching my move from America to Thailand I made the mistake of browsing these forums. And I was always left with two questions: why did these people still live in Thailand if they hated it so much? And do I really want to move there?
But each year I came to Thailand for vacation I experienced the opposite of what the forum frowners wrote about. When I left Thailand I wanted more of the country, the people, and the food — not less.
At first these bitter expats only seemed to exist online. Most of the people I met in Thailand enjoyed living here. But in 2014 I made Thailand my home and everywhere I turned there was an expat waiting to complain about his life in Thailand.
A fellow teacher of mine is one of these expats. He complains nonstop about Thailand. He complains about the people. He complains about the food. He complains about the weather. He complains about his students and everyone at the school. But the worst part? He complains about these things in front of Thais.
He does it at hi-so coffee shops where Thais know English perfectly well. He does it on the BTS and in taxis. And he does it with me right by his side. I’ve become so used to it that I have a preloaded list of topics I use to change the course of his conversation.
Imagine you stood in line at a coffee shop in New York City and two non-Americans were behind you, complaining about America and American people. People in the coffee shop would be pissed off. And Americans would have no problem letting them know it. Thais think the same way we do, they just don’t say it. But just because they don’t say something doesn’t make it right.
If you let them, bitter expats shift how you frame life in Thailand. They’re usually the ones who don’t try to fit in to Thai society. They don’t learn the language. The read and share and talk about only the negative news. They focus on the one thing that went wrong in their day instead of the dozens of things that went right. They see no good in the country or the people.
One day I asked my fellow teacher, “Why are you still in Thailand if you don’t like it?”
“My son,” he said. And he went on to tell me how he married a girl and had a kid with her. The more he talked, the more his hatred for life in Thailand made sense. He was giving his wife most of his paycheck to help pay for the debt she ran up. He was paying for his son’s schooling. He was paying for his wife’s apartment, her travel costs. And he wasn’t even living with them.
It made me realize it’s not Thailand he hates, or Thai people. He hates his life. Somewhere along the way he made a string of bad decisions. He married a bar girl and now has ties to her for life. Others come here and try to do business with people they don’t know. When things go sour they blame Thais. But marrying a bar girl or doing business with people you don’t know won’t go over well anywhere in the world.
Has a Thai ever screwed me over in Thailand? Sure. When I first started coming here in 2007 I knew nothing about the temple scams or the corn-in-the-hand scam at Sanam Luang. Other times I didn’t have the language skills to know when someone overcharged me because I wasn’t Thai. As a newbie I got, got. But it never stopped me from coming back. And it won’t make me forget the good times when people went out of their way to help me.
Last year a stranger helped push my stalled car off Srinakarin Road in rush hour. Then he drove to get his tools so he could check my battery. When that wasn’t enough, he took me to get a new battery and installed for me. He did this and wouldn’t accept one baht from me.
Contrast this with an experience I had in America when I was 18. I had to get the engine replaced in my car. The mechanic kept my car for months, always coming up with excuses on why it wasn’t ready. When I finally got the car back it barely drove. I found out he put a used engine in my car and I had to go through court to get some of my money back.
I never thought the mechanic screwed me over because he was American or I was American. He did it because he was a shady mechanic. So I don’t look at nationality as the reason negative things happen in Thailand either. Shitty people do shitty things to other people whether they’re the same nationality or not.
A person’s location doesn’t always affect their happiness, their frame of mind does. Moving to Thailand has taught me this. These bitter expats will bicker about life no matter where they live. Complaining brings them comfort. It makes them feel good about their own misery.
But be careful, because lending an ear to these sullen expats will bring bitterness to your life as well.