Cultural Exchange: Thailand is Walmart

A co-blog written by fellow Volunteer, Jeff Jackson, and myself. We’ve been sitting on this since Reconnect and hopefully will write some more things together.

A strike of similarities rushed through our minds as suddenly as the backfire of a Thai motorcycle that would have been taken to the junk yard in America years ago; we are Peace Corps Volunteers living in Wal-Mart … a Wal-Mart the size of Thailand.

Finishing dinner at The Pizza Company, walking out of Vasa Mall in Suphan Buri, we witnessed a gruesome scene. A PJ’s-clad child screaming and as we shuttered away from it, Erin asked Jeff, “Why do Thai parents dress their kids in pajamas in public?”

“I know,” Jeff said.  “It’s like we live in a giant Wal-Mart.”

Imagine Black Friday at Walmart...Same, same with a Sunday afternoon in Thailand

Like the redneck who lives with his mother and wakes at noon after his night shift at Taco Bell, followed by a four-hour session of his DVD box set of Season 3 of Two and a Half Men and a bottle of Southern Comfort, he spends the $2 on a Sunday paper for the sole purpose of the Wal-Mart ad and finds that 10W-30 generic motor oil is on feature and needs to get a ride from his mother right away to purchase a case of the oil for the car he doesn’t have; ideas like this need a ride from the local tuk-tuk driver to be splat out onto a computer screen.

White people stick out more than a Muslim woman in a Texas Wal-Mart
We walk down the street and heads turn.  We sit at a restaurant and any manners against staring are dropped.  We are the minority, much like the Asian exchange student shopping in Billings, Montana.  Luckily for us, we’re not looked down upon like the Wal-Mart customers, but that doesn’t stop the local curiosity and sniggers about our language skills.

Everything is made in Southeast Asia
Fortunately for us, we’re not living in a capitalistic society and there are hardly any overhead costs.  Cheap products that might last three months are priced a hair above the cost to make them here, whereas in the states it’s not just the production of the product that needs to be paid for but also everything from the greeter’s salary (luckily there are no health benefits) to the cost to make up for all the shoplifting.

Apparently, Guns Are Cool
Though the differences between the two cultures are staggering, each representing different ends of the spectrum, guns hold a special spot in both societies, much like Justin Bieber in the hearts of 13-year old girls across the globe.  You might not see a physical piece (packing heat, gat, or nine mm, if you will), but like the weekly NRA meetings in the church basement, you see images of guns on signs, t-shirts, and of other pieces of cotton in Southeast Asia.

He's not quite in his pjs, but this little guy is rocking the handgun look

Horrible Politically Correct Pop and Country Music
“Because of you I never stray too far from the sidewalk …”

“How do I live without you?”

“Loving you too much, so much, very much…” (Editor’s note: Erin actually loves this song.)  (Other editor’s note: Jeff just rolled his eyes.)

Under the great fluorescent lights of Thailand are nothing but “a happy song with a catchy chorus and beat so they can sing along.”  Pardon me if I eat my candy with pork and beans, but I like my literature and music to have the ability to make me think about things and not simply tap my foot.  Sure, the sandal-tapping tunes are good to have now and then, but variety sure is grand.

Attack of the Greeters
Buying last-minute things at Wal-Mart before coming to Thailand (stupid, stupid idea) and being greeted by a mildly-toothless geriatric that looks like he’s being held up by puppet strings was a bit of a disillusioning experience.  In Supan Buri we walked into Swensen’s to get some legit ice cream.  We were bombarded by a chorus of no less than four people cheerfully calling out “Sa-wat-dee!”  Jeff tried to tell Erin that they don’t do that in America. And then she reminded him about Wal-Mart.

Incredibly Poor Fashion Decisions
A friend of ours once said, while strolling through a Thai mall, ‘I feel like I’ve stepped back into the eighties. Does anyone actually dress like this anymore?’ And then we looked around and saw Thai people and the answer was a resounding, hell yes. From bedazzled suit coats (we witnessed a co-teacher with a tricked out hot pink suit coat complete with sequins), to camouflaged hats, t-shirts, and pants (worn together of course, sometimes with gun embellishments), to blinding shades of neon pink, orange, and yellow (also worn together if at all possible), to the lady-boys that dress in these neon shades, often with added bedazzlements, it’s clear to see that Thai people take their fashion cues from

Full-on camo outfit, check, note the gun photos in the background

Exercise Routine: A Stroll through the Liquor Aisle
The Thais have a huge advantage over Wal-Mart customers in this category, although they don’t really realize it.  Neither demographic enjoys exercise, but many Thais spend their days doing back-breaking work in rice fields allowing them to maintain a thin frame despite the mass consumption of carbohydrates.  However, both Thai and Wal-Mart men (and women) enjoy drinking alcoholic beverages like a lonely single man getting free refills at Burger King to wash down his Whopper.

Showing the belly off, this guy hasn't done much exercise lately...

People Spend Their Money on Stupid Shit
Peace Corps provides sufficient funds for us to rent what are sometimes the best houses in our villages and we have certain security regulations we are required to live by. Just because we don’t live in the wooden shacks that are literally standing on their last legs (many houses here are built on stilts to account for both the heat and floods) doesn’t mean that we don’t see them on a daily basis. There are skinny kids running around barefoot, no means of running water, or any furniture to speak of, but hey, they’ve got a ginormous satellite dish that takes up their entire front yard (and by front yard we mean the mud pit that the family roosters pick through in the hopes of finding food).  A question we find ourselves asking both Thai and American friends is, “Why did you buy that?” Some differences in the items include: a projector for a classroom that has no computer to actually control said projector vs. the iPhone 4…just because, principal’s buying aquariums for their schools that remain behind locked doors instead of providing a viable source of drinking water for their students vs. an aquarium because Mr. Smith next door just bought one too, government officials squandering public money to provide for second and third wives/mistresses…oh wait, that happens in America too.  So maybe wasteful spending is more of a global problem, but nothing quite beats the logical answer to our question ‘Why did you buy that?’ like the ‘I don’t know’s of the Thai/Wal-Mart subjects.

Aisle Etiquette
Thais are courteous people, until they get to Tesco-Lotus.  Moving a few inches to allow a cart to pass through does not take precedence to the sticker books they’re looking at.  Like Wal-Mart, there are also dozens of children running unsupervised, not looking where they’re going until they’re stiff-armed by the one white guy/girl in the store and later whimpering until their parents agree to buy the plastic toy that won’t outlive the rainy season.

Thais are known not to rush to anything.  They walk, drive and bike slow.  This all changed the closer we got to the register.  We were surrounded by people who weren’t afraid to let their extremities rest on our backs, butts and hips.  Some of them even cut in front of us.  Apparently, there’s no rush to Thai life until that whitening cream is almost in their grasp.

Braving the check-out was a doozy

One Big Family Under One Roof
Thai families live together from generation to generation because it is their custom, whereas some Wal-Mart families stay together because Cletus knocked up his sister, and you know where they’re going to register for the baby shower…

Do people really act like this in Thailand and in Wal-Marts across America?  Is this blog an exaggeration? Yes, however, there is one big difference.  We actually like Thailand.


One thought on “Cultural Exchange: Thailand is Walmart

  1. Pingback: 10 Foods We Can’t Wait For | Erin Flew the Coop

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