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Nothing burns me up more than seeing a tourist act badly while in Thailand. What is even worse, is a tourist acting badly because something isn't as it is in their own country. The term ugly American is used for a reason and while many Americans are respectful and courteous towards Thais, it only takes a few to make the good look bad. Of course, Brits and Aussies do a good job being rude towards Thais. At beaches, European women regularly sunbathe topless. Men walk around the street without their shirts on. They might just be dense or uninformed, but more than likely they are apathetic to the cultural differences between Thailand and their own country.
Several years ago, I was photographing a Muay Thai show in Lumpini Stadium. I had credentials and thus was allowed onto the ring apron. At some point during the show a young British woman came up to me between rounds.
"Can I take some photos?" she asked.
"Sure, you just can't touch the ring or get up on the ring apron," I said.
"Because in Thailand, it is considered bad luck."
She was visibly upset and seemed willing to test what I told her. She walked to the ring, sat down on the ring apron, and leaned through the ropes. Within seconds, one of the judges, doubling as a security guard, walked over.
"I am sorry, madame, you can not."
She moved away from the ropes and began bad mouthing Thailand for it's sexist attitude toward women. Although I was several rows in front of her and her boyfriend, I could hear her comments over the roar of the crowd. Finally, when the main event was over, I took a seat behind her. She was still going on about how Thailand needs to learn a thing or two about equality and how "no wonder their women end up in brothels."
I leaned forward and she turned to look at me.
"What did you come here for?" I asked.
"What? I wanted to see Thailand and have fun here. I didn't expect this sort of treatment though."
"So you didn't do any research before coming? You didn't know that women are treated differently than in your own country?"
"Well, I knew" she said, hesitating.
"And you still came," I said. "I don't mean to be rude but this is Thailand, not England. Maybe you should remember this."
Her boyfriend chuckled. My guess is he just let her blow off steam so he didn't have to deal with her. She turned away from me, and moped. It was at this point I realized...this is Thailand...somethings are never going to change no matter how much you complain or cry foul. Instead of forcing your cultural beliefs and opinions on others, it's better to remember that this isn't your home. If you want your own culture, go home. After all, isn't the reason for traveling to learn about other cultures?
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