Culture shock is real.
First, let’s back up for a second.
It’s easy to live in a bubble in America.
You live in your bubble home. You drive your bubble car to your bubble office. Sit at your bubble cubicle and do your bubble job. Eat your bubble lunch. Try to finish another bubble afternoon without taking a bubble nap.
So on and so forth.
Many people take comfort in the giant bubble, with all of its built-in, smaller bubbles.
Now, one could argue as to whether or not comfort is the same as enjoyment. And perhaps ignorance is bliss.
Either way, there’s a dearth of true hardship and adventure when one lives inside of a giant bubble, which allows one to lull themselves into a sense of routine and familiarity that dulls their edge over time.
And it’s easy: there’s nothing challenging about taking the road most traveled.
I never really liked the bubble… or any of the smaller bubbles within the larger bubble.
I like having an edge. I like being sharp.
Blazing a new trail, and traveling down paths far less traveled, is fun for me. I enjoy taking on challenges, growing as a person.
Complacency kills the soul. It may be a slow death. And one may not even be aware of it in real-time. But it’s happening, nonetheless.
It’s a disdain for bubbles that has become a cornerstone of my broader view on life. It’s something that first motivated me to escape the bubble of being a wage slave. And it’s partially that drive to keep my edge sharp that has led me to become a dividend expat in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
What’s been really amazing – and eye-opening – about my experience thus far is the reverse culture shock that I’ve felt since living here.
Never Felt At Home When I Was At Home
As I just alluded to, I never felt quite right in America.
I kind of always felt like an outcast. It’s not that I ever cared about what others thought of me – it’s actually my lack of caring about other people’s beliefs/thoughts/views that helped me break free from the bubble – but it’s rather the sense of not having any comradeship that bothered me for a long time.
Whenever I’d discuss my aims or achievements with people back in America, the feedback I would get would usually be an interesting mix of bewilderment, curiosity, doubt, and rejection. And it would often be in that order.
To each their own is a motto I live by. What someone does with their life is up to them. We all have to make choices (and deal with the associated consequences). There’s nothing saying that my choices are any better than anyone else’s. I only aim to inspire those seeking to achieve similar goals and live a similar lifestyle by making similar choices and experiencing similar consequences. If someone wants to waste their money on stuff that won’t add any value or happiness to their life, that’s on them. If someone else wants to remain inside of an endless cycle of working and spending, they can have at it.
Someone eating fish doesn’t affect my Omega-3 fatty acids. Likewise, someone spending 100% of their income doesn’t negatively affect my budget. If anything, I benefit from mass consumerism (via the growing dividends my fantastic collection of businesses are able to send my way because they’re busy increasing their profit by selling more products and/or services to the world at large). So if my way of life is rejected by most Americans, that’s okay by me.
But that also doesn’t mean that I want to spend a ton of time around people who aren’t like-minded. People are free to live and spend as they wish. However, I’m also free to make the choice to avoid people who don’t share a common vision.
As such, I never felt at home, even when I was “home”.
What Is Home?
America is the place where I was born. But that doesn’t necessarily make it my home.
Home is wherever you are. Home is where you feel comfortable and happy. Home is truly whatever and wherever you make it. It’s taken me a while to come around to this realization. But now that I’m free of the belief and assumption that I must live in the place where I was born and raised, I’m able to become a global citizen who’s unchained from geographical expectations and ties.
Living in Chiang Mai, Thailand has given me a whole new view on what home is.
What’s wonderful about this place is that it’s become a sort of “mecca” for like-minded people who want to live outside the bubble, pursue passions, build businesses, create passive income, and live a more sustainable and enjoyable life.
It’s a common mindset – an agreement on a greater vision – that lends itself to redefining just what home really is.
Is home where I was born and raised? Or is home where people like me can be found? Is home where I come from or where I should be? Is home where I see similar-looking people or where I feel most happy and free?
Some people go to a foreign country and immediately feel culture shock. But I’ve experienced the opposite in Thailand. I’ve felt reverse culture shock here.
That’s because America is filled with anti-Jasons. There’s very little of Fieber Be Fire in America. But there’s a hell of a lot of Jones Keep Up there.
Why would that be my home? Why would I want to live in a place where everyone is living a life so directly and powerfully opposite of everything I believe in?
Conversely, there are many people in Chiang Mai who want nothing to do with the Joneses and all of their keeping up. And I believe a major part of what makes a home a home is being around like-minded people who support your values. Thus, I feel more at home now in Chiang Mai than I did back in America.
Speaking My Language Without Actually Speaking My Language
What is culture?
Is culture a larger group of people who live as you do? People who dress like you? Think like you? Act like you?
If so, there’s nothing shocking at all about living in Thailand, which is why I’ve experienced such a reverse form of culture shock here.
Motorbikes are common here.
When I rode a scooter around in America, I was a total weirdo. However, it’s very normal here.
Motorbikes are such a fantastic and easy way to get around. They consume less fuel. They require less maintenance and repairs. And they’re just plain fun. I feel like a kid when I’m on a scooter.
Public Transportation is everywhere here.
I used to ride a bus to a job at a luxury car dealership. You can only imagine the look on people’s faces when they’d see their service advisor (who’s going to help them with repairs on their $100k Audi) get off the bus.
And this was in a city where public transportation was limited at best. That’s because only a few major cities in America offer robust public transportation. And these cities tend to be cold, expensive, and relatively dangerous places to live.
Meanwhile, I can live in one of the safest, warmest, cheapest cities in the world, yet walk outside my door and catch a ride to just about anywhere across the city. Better yet, I’m not one of the few doing it. Many people are using public transportation here because it’s an efficient and cost-effective way to get around.
People eat cheap, delicious food here.
The food in Thailand is often noodles-based. I ate cheap ramen noodles for lunch for a year straight back in America. And I was laughed at for it.
I now get to eat healthier, more delicious (but still similar) food here, all while knowing that I’m among my own people doing the same. And it doesn’t cost a whole lot more than than my ramen noodles did.
I eat Thai food for lunch pretty much every day. It’s always something new. Always something cheap, tasty, fast, healthy, and high in quality. It’s pretty amazing.
Oh, and the portions here aren’t out of control, keeping costs down and my health in check.
Meanwhile, people in America stand in line and make reservations just to have the honor of spending 300% more than they should at some restaurant. And they’ll likely eat way more than they should. It’s baffling.
Small, cheap apartments are common here.
The $420/month apartment I rent here in Chiang Mai is actually on the more expensive and luxurious side of the spectrum of the city’s available apartment stock. Renting a place for half that much wouldn’t be difficult. Moreover, at around 400 square feet, it’s somewhat relatively large.
In America, it’s extremely difficult to find small and/or affordable apartments. Americans want it big. Be it pizza or housing, the thought is that bigger must be better. Well, bigger is just bigger. And more expensive. And more wasteful.
The small apartments I would come across in America (in Florida and in other places I could see myself living) were usually designed terribly (with kitchens and bathrooms that were stupidly big). Plus, they didn’t provide good value at all, which is due to (what I believe to be) an overvalued housing market across the US. The lack of supply of small apartments (because Americans want that aforementioned big housing, meaning the market caters to it) only exacerbated my troubles.
Meanwhile, small housing is everywhere here. In fact, it’s preferred. It’s dense in Chiang Mai (as well as Thailand as a whole). And people don’t make a ton of money. Yet with less money and less housing, the people here (in my experience thus far) are visually happier than the Americans I’ve met over the years. I mean, it’s not even close.
What used to really annoy me back in America is this overwhelming drive to own a home. (It’s not that I care if someone else buys their place, but I do care when someone else believes their beliefs should be my beliefs. And I also prefer to be around like-minded people).
People used to wonder how I could rent – especially a smaller and dated condo. If I were such a financial “expert”, I surely must eventually buy a place. Well, I never wanted to own. Never owned. Never will own. Those who wondered about my financial acumen own their homes. They’re also broke and still working. Per my motto noted above: to each their own.
The comical thing about it is that the ownership rate is way higher in Thailand than it is in the US. Americans want so badly to own, and they’re willing to work day and night to make it possible. Yet it’s a more widespread concept in a country where there’s a law against working more than 48 hours. How ironic.
People are more joyful here.
There’s a tangible positive attitude here that I’m falling in love with. There’s optimism, happiness, and smiles everywhere you go. Thailand is, after all, nicknamed the Land of Smiles. Seems apt to me.
I sense a far better work-life balance. Most things are mai pen rai. There’s a carefree attitude that is wonderful and infectious.
Moreover, lots of people are thin. This is one of the first things I noticed when I came here. There’s a direct correlation between health and happiness. And I for sure know that wealth is meaningless without health. The only time I really see overweight people here is when they’re from a Western country.
And there’s always a market or festival happening. I literally can’t walk down the street without seeing some new outdoor market/party/festival that just sprung out of nowhere. People, music, food, vendors, and laughter fill the streets wherever these markets pop up. There’s a visceral energy here that is very different from the sterility that’s omnipresent across much of America.
In the States, there’s a lot of hustling. It’s hurry up and wait. It’s I, me, mine. It’s money, money, money. It’s overweight, overworked, overstressed. It’s sterile. Said another way, it’s the complete opposite of who I am.
What is culture?
Language must surely be part of a common culture.
Well, I speak a different language. I don’t speak Thai.
But I can tell you this: the Thais speak my language, even if they don’t literally speak my language. Just about everything that I value can be found in abundance here. It’s a life that speaks to me in a way that being able to speak totally fluent English with someone could never trump in terms of importance. Maybe I can’t have a winding, philosophical conversation with the average Thai. Mai pen rai. It’s no problem. We’re on the same page anyway.
I don’t think I’ll ever move back to the States. If Thailand doesn’t work out over the long run for whatever reason, I’d simply try somewhere else. America has, for me, become a place where I don’t have much in common with the people there. Maybe I was once part of that culture. But it’s no longer so. I don’t see it as home any longer.
If anything, true “culture shock” would occur if I were to ever try to reintegrate back into American culture. I’d feel like people aren’t speaking my language, even if they are speaking English.
I never thought I’d experience reverse culture shock. Coming to a place where the typical idea of culture is so vastly different from what I’m used to would seem to invite culture shock, perhaps to the point of being miserable by trying to live in such a radically unfamiliar place.
But I feel like I’m finally home, among my people. They speak my language here, even if they don’t commonly speak English extremely fluently.
What do you think? Ever experience anything like this? Do you ever feel not at home when you’re home?
Thanks for reading.
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