The Little Differences that Make a BIG Difference

Travelling in a foreign country, you start to notice things that aren’t like at home.  Some good, some not so good.  Here are some things that have really impressed upon me…

What a Relief!

In Thailand, if you need to use the bathroom, you’re welcome to go at virtually any establishment.  Walk into any restaurant or attraction – probably even people’s homes – and a simple smile and “toilet?” will get you happily obliging directions to the bathroom.  Except for Khao San Road in Bangkok, which is packed with obnoxious beer-drinking – and thus excessively urine-producing – tourists, you won’t see any signs saying “Washrooms for Customers ONLY!”

Several times during my two weeks here, I’ve been on a walkabout and needed to use the facilities.  Every single time, I’ve been happily shown the way.  At home in Toronto, I tend to look for a “safe haven” – a McDonald’s or Tim Hortons where they seem to have an unofficial open (restroom) door policy.  And even then I feel obliged to buy something (and sometimes I do).  At other places I’ll try to slip in unnoticed.  Otherwise, I feel kind of awkward asking.  Is it just me, or do you feel the same way?  Are businesses in Toronto/North America stingy when it comes to people using their washrooms without making a purchase?

Burlap Security

Another difference I’ve noticed is a lax attitude toward protecting property.  When some businesses close up at night, they simply drape a piece of burlap across the entrance and call it a day.  They probably don’t leave the cash register full, but if you wanted to, you could unhook the burlap and walk inside.  One guesthouse and restaurant here in Pai is closed for a week for staff vacation.  The entrance is blocked by a simple bamboo gate held in place by a couple of bent nails.  Evidently, they don’t need better security, which says a lot about the culture.  It seems people here aren’t out to screw each other.  And as a result, they don’t have the paranoia that comes along with it.

Refreshingly Non-Opportunist

Speaking of people who aren’t out to screw each other at every opportunity (like in many other parts of the world)… Last Saturday afternoon we went to these floating docks just outside of Chiang Mai.  It’s a big park area with private docks overlooking the water.  It cost a very reasonable 20 baht per person to enter the park.  Then once inside, you simply choose your dock (no reservations, no extra fees, no time restrictions) and sit down.  The friendly lady comes by and brings menus – yes, there’s “at your dock service” and a full menu of food and drinks to choose from.  To my surprise, the prices on the menu were the same as any local restaurant in town.  My fried rice and pork cost 30 baht ($1).  The large beers were 65 baht – the same as any bar or restaurant.  The point here is that you’re a captive audience.  There’s no other food.  You have no choice.  Yet they don’t rape you.  And keep in mind that tipping is not customary in this country either, so they aren’t working for the tip.

What Would This Look Like at Home?

Now imagine for a moment what this scenario would look like at home.  Here’s what I imagine… It would cost $8 or $10 per person to get in the gate.  Then you would pay $10 to park your car.  Then you would pay an hourly rate for the dock, or a set fee for a certain number of hours.  And then if you wanted to eat or drink, you could go up to the concession stand and wait in line to order an outrageously expensive hamburger, hot dog, pizza or nachos – or some other artery-clogging, carcinogenic crap – and wash it down with an $8 beer ($12 for the large size).

Am I off base here?  Am I just being jaded and cynical about my native culture?  Or is there something to this?  (Please comment below).


7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Taylor on January 22, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Stu! So glad to see your travels are going well. I must say tho, when I saw this post I thought it was more of a ‘what us lucky spoiled rotten middle class white kids can do to be respectful and gracious to people when were traveling around’ although I agree it’s nice to see different cultures, I wonder if there is a way to engage on a deeper level, many of the folks I work with are active on mining issues, as many of the beautiful
    places in the world are threatened by Canadian
    mining interests… I wonder if on your travels
    you encountered people who are trying to resist
    Canadian companies.. Or if they need the jobs
    and want the mines..

    Ad far as being jaded about our culture, ditto!
    But I would be sure that where you are isn’t pure tourist type areas where foreigners like yourself mean $$ to local folk, so often in those places tourists recieve a skewed version of reality, or like places like veradero Cuba, the whole population of the town work in some way in the tourist industry so they depend on being percieved as friendly and safe.

    Let me know about the mining companies, but be careful people don’t suspect you are a mining spy, (which totally exist btw) barrack gold (a Canadian gold company) hired a third party paramilitary group to set fire to 120 homes in papa new guinea. Like only a year ago!! Canadians in many circles around the world are being perceived as evil, greedy assholes. Be careful and approach the subject with respect. Many people in the global south have been displaced or killed because of canadian companies.. Heck our cpp’s are invested in mining! It’s a thick web of corporate greed. Best to realize it so you don’t offend.

    Hope this isn’t to serious a tone, and I do hope you are enjoying your travels.


    • Thanks, Taylor. I haven’t run into anything to do with mining and the evil Canadian companies, but I’ll tread gingerly if I do. Also, I’m fully aware that we get skewed views as tourists, and surely there are politics and issues that we’re not aware of, but these day-to-day things I’ve mentioned sure are attractive.


  2. Posted by Matt MacLean on January 22, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    Definitely hear you on the bathroom policy! It should be on the list of UN human rights, or maybe it needs its own special convenant.I personally have marked territory all over Toronto at one time or another. I especially feel for homeless people who get refused the key because they “look dirty” and end up going in public, which only marginalizes them more.


    • It’s a tough issue, because you can’t force a business owner to let any stinky homeless person to use their store as their personal bathroom instead of getting their own home. If I owned a restaurant, I wouldn’t want to be forced to let some grimy, urine-soaked street person come and gross out my customers while they’re enjoying their dinner.


  3. Posted by Angi on January 22, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    You’re not alone in your cynicism. Our culture is much to do about making a buck. You see it everywhere but some of it is perpetuated by the fact that we as citizens of this culture stand for it and fall into the trap because we don’t think ahead and pack a lunch or carry a canteen. Though there are some places that don’t even allow for that (ie Wonderland). We are all about the convenience and it comes at a price. The worst part of the scenario is that you pay exuberant prices for food with no healthy choices. We should riot!

    On a happy note, I experienced a scene, similar to what you describe, in Mexico. You go to the beach and plop on an umbrella chair for some shade and there is a little restaurant shack with a grill and a fridge a 50ft behind. There are several along the beach. Some one will come out to the beach and take your order and serve you on the beach. Fría fría cerveza por favor for $1, add some garlic grilled shrimp for a few dollars more. No extra fees. You can leave your stuff safely there, take a dip and then come back for more beer. Fabulous!

    Enjoy the fruits of other cultures! Utopia may yet exist!


  4. Posted by Len Ert on January 23, 2011 at 4:05 am

    Just for the record, there r still places in N America that people don’t lock their doors or need to have extra security.

    Ex.1. The other day I picked up a loaner car as my car went in for repairs. I came home, had dinner then took my son to the library. We both came out of the library and jumped into the car, in an instant we both looked at each other and started laughing, why all the shopping bags, hats and other things, maybe we are in the wrong car! Our same color car was parked next to it! We laughed and giggled for some time after.

    Ex. 2. Many of my friends r wholesalers. They show their goods at trade shows in convention centers. When they close at the end of the day they simply hang or lay large sheets over the display tables, similar to what u saw in Pai, but in America! There are many other vendors walking around either after one closes or before others open the next day.

    So what I’m saying is there r more good people in this world than assholes!
    I loved Thailand also and every foreign country I’ve been too cause there are a lot less assholes!
    Money, greed and the wanting ofmaterial things do not drive their being, family and extended family gives their lives meaning. Enjoy everything! Ert


    • Did you steal their stuff?

      Agreed, there are always a lot more decent, honest people than a-holes, but unfortunately it’s the 1 or 2 percent that ruin it for everyone else. In our culture, greed doesn’t make you an a-hole, it makes you “shrewd” and “successful.”


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