Written by Lani Cox
I teach English in Chiang Mai. I know, I'm such a cliché. And during my break I usually saunter over to the smoothie stand for a banana and another fruit shake. It was crowded with students and an older Caucasian woman who I assumed to be a tourist.
After the students had gotten their shakes, the vendors started to make mine.
“I was here before her,” the woman said and then she walked away.
I'm not sure why but I was surprised. Honestly I had forgotten about her and didn't really think about what she was waiting for. The vendors looked slightly surprised as well, we all looked at the direction she went and then carried on.
I guess this is just one of those strange things I have gotten used to about Thailand. I've had my fair share of folks cutting in line or jumping the cue before me, and because I had read about this prior to living here, I expected it. When I'm the one forgotten I just wait longer. I can't get excited every time I don't get my way. It's probably bad for the skin.
When I was in Laos trying to buy a bus ticket back to Thailand, I had enough folks push their passports through the counter window in front of me that by the time it was “my turn” the tickets were sold out. This seemingly aggressive behavior was something I also experienced in Ecuador. It's not just an Asian thing.
I suppose to other folks, jumping the cue is a cultural thing, it's natural. It's a “if you want something then you better go and get it” kind of attitude. The opposite of waiting for it to come to you. If I was raised here or in Laos, or in the countryside then I suppose waiting in line looks highly stupid or foolish. There is obviously a finite amount of bus tickets at the station, and bread at the bakery.
Despite the orderliness of the West or the United States where I'm from, we have a saying, “The squeakiest wheel gets the oil.” So even though we are conditioned to wait our turn, we also understand that if we raise a big fuss and complain we can oftentimes get what we want. Now that I've lived here for about 2 years, I can see how to another culture that is just hilarious, why not just get what you want to begin with?
I hope the old woman didn't take the waiting in line thing personally. Honestly I think the vendors forgot she was there (I know I did) and I'm a regular customer. I also think, living abroad has made me more “aggressive” in this sense, I was front and center at the fruit stand, and the woman was at the side, despite the fact that the students had left.
But oddly enough I'm a much more patient person than when I first arrived. I wouldn't say Thailand has broken my spirit so much as believe Americans are too damn impatient. The technological age has created a NOW, NOW, NOW world and here? well, it's now, now, now if you make it happen and if you get lucky. Sometimes you just have to frickin' wait.
I've learned to text my landlord when the power is out, call TOT when my Internet goes down, gently push my way through a crowd to get where I want, jump the cue at immigration, and stand or sit where I can be seen so when I have to wait, I am not forgotten.
Lani Cox was born in a pink hospital and raised on the beautiful island of Hawaii. She has lived in Durango and Cortez Colorado, Eugene and Portland Oregon, Barstow, Oceanside and Chico California, Huntsville Alabama, and Cuenca Ecuador. She's been an archaeologist, pizza pie maker, Waldorf school teacher and a receptionist for a company that ships large animals around the world. She blogs about Thailand at Tell Thai Heart and her Waldorf teaching experience at The Missing Teacher.
Lani Cox asserts her right to be identified as the author of this work. All copyright and/or pictures are the property of the author.