Cultural Variety ...

One sees, one hears, one feels, one experiences...then categorizes, generalizes, extrapolates and forms a belief about the way things are and the way things work. Surely this has worked in our favor over the millennia. Saving us from threats and dangers that could have jeopardized our survival along the way. As with all things there is another side, however. This tendency sometimes stunts our growth and once an opinion is formed it can be quite difficult to unlearn or deprogram.

Such is the case with cultural, racial and ethnic biases. It is simple mental laziness that encourages us to put large swaths of human kind into convenient groups or categories. Though hardly of any earth shattering significance, Thailand has suffered its share of being painted with a single brush and a limited color pallet. To avoid such generalizations, I will try to relate a personal story, that may or may not, resemble others experiences. A brief vignette of my wife’s exposure to the West.

By the time the wife and I first ventured to my homeland we had been together for something in the order of three years. Two years of cohabitation before a year of marriage. Green Card in hand, concerns tended more toward food, language, weather and culture. Food turned out to be a nonissue as was the weather. Though lacking a little confidence, language was not a major hurtle, as I could help fill in the gaps as her learning progressed. At that point my Thai was still much better than her English as I had been using it much longer. Strangely we have now slipped into a pattern of me speaking English with her, as she responds in Thai. That is another story, however.

There was a palpable sense of loneliness, for her, on those first few trips. I had to be all things to her, and our love notwithstanding, it wasn’t really healthy to be that dependent. In hindsight, this should not have been unexpected. Up to that point in her life she had probably not spent more than a few moments alone during any one day, let alone months at a time.

As painful and difficult as it was at times, she grew tremendously during that period and ventured down a path of self-discovery. She discovered to her surprise that she had no idea who she was or what she really wanted in life, so went about finding “herself.” Typically that is not the kind of thing one discovers in a noisy crowded environment always reacting to the things around us, without any control.

In contrast to the loneliness, she was stuck by the amount of physical contact people indulged in. Though uncomfortable at first she soon grew to appreciate hugs and affection among friends. She hugged my parents and her friends with regularity but to this day can’t seem to break that barrier with her own family. Perhaps it is difficult to break old patterns or maybe there is a fear that it would be misinterpreted or rejected.

She was impressed by the more gentle tone of conversation. The candid expression of feelings and ideas among family and friends. Those are things she has come to respect and embrace now, in her own life. Village life can be hard and sometimes the style of communication reflects that severity.

Her newly evolved self is often in a state of limbo, between two cultures. It is not about one culture being better than another. It is about finding ones own place in the world. So we make our own world, together. We end up picking and choosing the building blocks of our lives and placing them on the firm foundation of love and respect.