Many (but not all) Thais believe America (or any western country for that matter) is the coolest thing since rice that sticks together (because bread, sliced or otherwise, is still not considered that grand… don’t worry, I have another year yet). Any shirt, notebook, or anything really, no matter what it says or how horrible the grammar, is considered fashionable.
With these attitudes, Thais are at a loss as to why we, American passport carrying PCVs, would want to come and live in their country. I’m often asked when I’m going back and why I haven’t gone to visit since I left. Because I mean, why else would we want to move from the country where everyone is rich with big houses and big cars (and snow) to poor, poor Thailand. (I’m not going to explain how big of an eye roll I have to restrain when they say this to me)?
Peace Corps Thailand Volunteers have a theory that Thais think we must be orphaned, friendless, or outcasts to decide to pick up (or if people allowed us to leave, they must not love us very much) and move from paradise to Thailand with the heat, dogs, and poor people (the POOR people! Ok, I can’t hold back anymore. Thai people tell me all the time how many less fortunate people there are here. It takes a lot of convincing in telling them we have homeless people too. A lot of convincing. Most people don’t want and/or choose not to believe me. And I would go as far to say, it would be easier to be ‘underprivileged’ in Thailand than in America. Given the culture, there is almost always someone providing shelter or food to those that can’t pay. And hello, no real winter either. Take a breath, moving on).
So how do we combat this idea that we’re aliens cast from a different planet? Well, if you’re lucky to have someone visit that helps, but pictures, my friends, and showing them early on in the game is the best strategy. All Volunteers are told to bring photos from home to show your host country nationals about your life and I did that. What I didn’t realize is the pictures I thought would be bit hits were actually kind of boring to Thai people. Yeah they like seeing my Mom and my brother, but who knew they’d go crazy over my cousin’s son? And my grandma. And snow! And my old Christmas tree!!! Holy cow it’s like I really was showing them a scene from a different universe. Not that they haven’t seen snow or the like on the news before, but seeing it in a regular way, me standing in it and then the streets of my neighborhood… well, it led to conversations of snow plows, salt lowering freezing points, genetics (if I had a dollar for every time I had to explain genetics and evolution in this country, I’d be a very rich Volunteer), and how to ice skate. Usually in that order.
My biggest mistake though was not bringing a photo of the outside of my house. This is the highest requested photo and I can’t deliver. It would really help dispel some of the stereotypes as my Mom’s townhouse is actually smaller than most Thai homes I’ve stayed in. So, just in case you want to make sure that I am in fact not some kind of science experiment gone wrong, here are some of the photos I use (and the Thais love) as evidence to explain my very normal existence in America.