At the age of fifty-seven, I was a divorced man not particularly keen on spending the rest of my life alone. I decided to try online dating. I had always been a world traveler and my two children were grown, so I could go wherever the wind took me.
After some false starts, I found a wonderful woman in Thailand. She was a Public Relations Manager and Psychologist working at a government hospital. We exchanged emails and talked on Skype for six months. I made two trips to Thailand, and a year later, we married in a traditional Thai ceremony. I had to return to the United States, but my wife could not travel until she received her visa. So I flew back to Arkansas, where I worked as a database administrator, and patiently waited for ten months.
Finally, her paperwork was approved, she passed the medical exam and interview, and she joined me in America. Although she had traveled to other parts of the world, she had never been to the United States. She experienced quite a bit of culture shock, but I helped her through the difficult times, such as when she failed her driver license exam twice.
Time Zone Shock
The first shock my wife experienced was the change in climate and jet lag. After a long flight across the Pacific Ocean, delayed baggage, hours spent waiting in line at immigration, then another connecting flight to Arkansas, she was tired, and the cold November air in Los Angeles made her shiver. The time zone difference between Thailand and the U.S. is twelve hours, so she spent the nights wide awake and felt sleepy in the afternoon.
In her forty years, she had spoken only the Thai language. Her alphabet has 44 letters, with 21 vowels and 5 tones. Every Thai child starts learning the Thai language in elementary school. In high school, four years of English is required. But her English studies were limited to one hour a week, so she spoke only a few phrases and did not know correct pronunciation. Also, in her community she spoke Isarn, the dialect of northeastern Thailand. She had little chance to speak or practice English in early life. She was fortunate to be employed at an international hotel for a few years, so she managed to practice some English with her manager, who was from France. She also listened to English pop music, and repeated the lyrics.
When she arrived in the U.S., all the natives spoke too quickly, and they used slang words she had never heard before. Any time she spoke with an American at the grocery store, restaurant, or a social setting with my family, she felt shy and embarrassed. In Thailand she was a leader, a famous public speaker. Here, she was a baby. Her senses had to absorb all these new sounds. For a long time, she experienced a loss of self confidence, and felt homesick.
Imagine her sensitive ears on hearing something like this the first time:
“Are you comfy over there? You want to go out and get a few things at the store? We gotta do this an’ that. Hey, how yawl doin’? You guys find everythin’ all right? Okey-doky?“
Comfy? What is he talking about? You guys? I am a lady, not a guy. I’m okay, I’m not a donkey.
Every day she encountered more slang words and had to learn vocabulary words. What should she say when she was introduced to someone else? She did not know American culture. In America, people liked eye contact. In Thailand, people don’t maintain eye contact for long. Americans like to touch. In her culture, she did not like anyone to touch her body. Every day she had to concentrate to try and carry on a conversation. Simple things that people take for granted, she found new. Thailand uses the metric system. In the U.S., people use the British system of measurement.
She frequently had to repeat what she said, because people did not understand her.
That was a big shock for her. In Thailand people drive a car on the left hand side. She arrived in the U.S. and everybody was driving on the wrong side. Imagine her confusion. I bought her a car one day after her arrival and told her to drive the car home. She did not understand the rules about stop signs and what the middle lane was for. There are no speed limit signs in Thailand. So she had to learn many kinds of signs. She felt nervous and confused every time she drove. Some times she made a wrong turn. She wanted to make a right turn, but turned left once. Everyone needed a car in America. She wondered how she would survive.
She failed the state driver’s license exam two times. The first time she skipped too many questions and the computer did not let her return. She studied for a whole month. The second time she did better, but the questions were different. The third time she finally passed. She was nervous sitting with the officer in the road test.
He said, “Not bad. Be careful about blind spots.”
One week after she received her license she was happily driving home, when she was stopped by police for speeding. Luckily the officer gave her only a warning.
She felt so relieved! She gave thanks…