Repatriation can often hold more shocks and surprises than the initial move abroad. Steve Edwards, a long-time Thai expatriate, talks us through how he coped — or not — with reverse culture shock, all from within the cosy confines of a Great British pub.
When I first returned to the UK after a protracted sabbatical on Siamese shores, I did what any self-respecting person with a pulse and a penchant for aerated alcoholic beverages would do: I went to the pub.
Battling through a thick fug of Sarsons vinegar and Fosters lager fumes I reached the bar, pulled a crisp 10 pound note out of my wallet and made to place my order:
“Beer Chang nueng quat.”
No, hang on…
“Kronenberg one pint.”
That’s not right…
“Pint one Kronenberg.”
That’s not right either, wait a minute…
“Kronenberg nueng gaew mai sai nam keang?”
Bollocks. I’d forgotten how to speak English.
And perhaps the most disturbing byproduct of this was my inability to order alcohol. This was a code red DEFCON one situation which needed rectifying right now.
I pointed to the Kronenberg tap and with equal amounts of shame and confusion, said “pint”.
It worked, and I got that glass of premium French lager beer and after appraising its fine, fine form, ended its existence in several ardent and impassioned gulps. And, my, how it hit the spot.
Of course, I hadn’t forgotten how to speak English, but after 14 years away from the country, a duration during which I would speak predominantly in another language, I was unable to recall how certain workaday social situations were conducted.
Clearly, “a pint of Kronenberg, please” isn’t advanced conversational English, but strike-a-bloomin’-light if it didn’t take the best part of a week to start thinking in my mother tongue again.
And if I had a quid for every time I’d said “kob jai” or “kob khun” instead of thank you… well, I might just be able to afford another pint — which brings me on to the next point.
I handed over my 10 pound note expecting enough change to continue reacquainting myself with the European hop industry for a further hour or two, but no.
I was presented with a light sprinkling of coins of varying shapes, colours and sizes which all but put paid to my grand plan of getting pissed for the day.
I sat there beaten and bereft, consoling myself with a packet of pork scratchings and seriously questioning my decision to move back to England.
Fortunately I had back-up in the form of a critically-ebbing balance on a debit card, and after ordering another glass of beer — this time a pint of Guinness, which set me back the equivalent value of a smallholdings on the outskirts of Ubon Ratchathani — I took hold of a nearby menu and scanned the entries with interest…
Food for thought
It’s a sad, sad day when you come to think of a plate of sausage and mash as uninspiring, but after a prolonged spell in what’s generally considered a foodie’s most wanton wet dream, you dolefully conclude that your palate has now changed and the humdrum flavours dished up in the West no longer cut it.
In an attempt to stimulate my taste buds I noted a menu option boasting an “authentic Thai prawn salad”.
Mmm mmm – Yam Kung, just what the doctor ordered.
But alas, my placemat was presently adorned with a bowl of seasonal salad items with a handful of shrimp and half a lemon sat on top.
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t taste anything like Yam Kung; it actually tasted a bit more like a bowl of seasonal salad items with a handful of shrimp and half a lemon on top.
But I failed to inform the waitress about this. The waitress looked mean enough to wrestle a moving double decker bus to the floor and condense it into small cube.
She didn’t say “ka” either. Which is always disappointing.
The bottom line
In the midst of all of this disenchantment and turmoil, I reasoned it wise to seek solace in the lavatory.
Surely some semblance of civilisation could be found in the gents.
Aside from a selection of grammatically hopeless graffiti and a few suspect stains below the tissue paper dispenser, the bathroom in the main looked in fairly good nick. I went into a cubicle and locked the door.
Upon completion, however, my knee-jerk grab for the sacred bum-gun was rewarded with a fistful of thin air.
“Damn and blast!” (the English was coming back at least.)
Another endearing but often overlooked facet of life in Southeast Asia is the presence of the bum-gun, or the arse-blaster. This canny little contraption beats a bog roll hands down when it comes to conducting a post bowel-movement mop up.
So now, staring a bouncy roll of peach-coloured Andrex in the face, I’ll admit that I felt a little intimidated.
What the fuck am I supposed to do with that? Chase it around the bathroom?
We are far too nannied, too pampered in the West: “Here you go, tend to your backside with these three-ply sheets of embroidered toilet tissue ”.
Meanwhile, in Asia: “Stick this hose up your arse and pull the fucking trigger”.
Crude, but devastatingly effective.
I can tell you, dear reader – that afternoon I believe I was responsible for felling several dozen hectares of rainforest. I suppose it just takes practice.
The sun always shines on GMTV
Back at the bar now and I looked out of the window to see that it was raining, Of course it was raining. A lacklustre drizzle that looked like it was there to stay for six months.
And it did…
But on the brightside the Good Morning Britain weather lady informs us that, nil desperandum, we should see some sunshine for a few hours in mid-July.
So that’s something to look forward to.
Featured image is a photoshop of Creative Commons images by Arpingstone and Marc-Antoine Durand Dallaire / Cédric Pichette-Milot / Loc Huynh Quan