Today’s guest on Thai women living abroad was born and for the first part of her life raised in Nakhon Sawan, Thailand. At age 14, Khun Penpayom arrived in her new home and surroundings just outside of Gothenburg in Sweden. It’s a fascinating read as to how she arrived in Sweden. Now though, and after spending a long time in Sweden, Khun Penpayom gives us her insights and experiences about life in Sweden.
Introducing Khun Penpayom Poolkett – Nickname (Som)
How did you come to live in Sweden, what first took you there, where do you live in Sweden and how long have you lived there?
I came to Sweden because my father and mother dissolved their business in Thailand and they didn’t have the money to send me to continue my studies. I came to stay in Mölndal in 1983 which is in the district of Gothenburg. At that stage I was 14 years old.
Could you tell us about where you were born and raised in Thailand, and what life was like there as a child growing up?
I am from the city of Nakhon Sawan in central Thailand, and I was born into a business-minded family. My father has Chinese ancestry and a history of working hard and helping themselves. They don’t ask for or accept help from anyone. This is a typical trait of people who have Chinese ancestry and these traditional teachings are handed down through generations. Grandfather (my father’s father) had a motion pictures (movies) business, that was widely known.
My mother was from a family with status and they weren’t particularly fond of the Chinese. They were especially not fond of Chinese who worked in the entertainment industry. These included positions such as, Singer, dancer etc , they saw this as an insecure career.
It was 30 years ago, when I was 13 years old that my father’s business became unbearable. My grandfather wanted to help. He wanted to help fund the business, but my father was stubborn. Therefore, my father refused this help and the business went bust. My grandfather and grandmother had pity that my father and mother had to take care of several children and be in debt.
My grandfather did not give up his efforts to help the family and offered to look after me in order that I could have the opportunity to study and finish university. In exchange I would help my grandfather with his work. Unfortunately, my other grandfather ( my mother’s father) did not like the profession of my father’s father and did not let me go.
After that, my grandfather that offered to take me in, returned home with a health problem or suffering from stress. I’m not totally sure. However though, it was not too long afterwards that we received the news he’d passed away. Before he died, he wrote up a last will and testament allocating shares in the company and some land to me. It was written up with several conditions though at that period of time. One of those conditions was that I could not use the surname of my father. This therefore caused the descendants from grandfather to contest and compete for the assets. They did not want to give anything to me. This ended up going to court on several occasions until in the end, my father got thoroughly fed up with the problem. He decided to give up interest in any of the assets and gave all to the those that desired them… all of them. From that day, I cut those relatives out of my life. I also cut the friends of those relatives out of my life.
I still had relatives on my mother’s side, there were two important, superior government officials and they wanted to help our family. They came to ask my grandfather if they could adopt me. There were a few people who wanted to look after me, but now it came to deciding on who is the best choice. Finally my grandfather decided to let my auntie (who has a Swedish husband) look after me. He believed that this person and this way was most suitable for me. Sweden would be very appropriate as it has good benefits and free education. It was decided and grandfather contacted auntie.
My auntie went forward with the plan for me to be adopted immediately, and she went back to Sweden 2 – 3 months in advance of me moving there. The month before I moved to Sweden my other grandfather passed away. My auntie came to collect me and we flew to Sweden together in time for the new study term to begin. I was very excited. This was life for me before moving to Sweden.
What work do you now do in Sweden?
I’m an assistant at the local hospital, I work as a regular chef. Now though, I am studying again in order to further my career. I finish and get my papers in January 2017. I am studying to be an interpreter from Swedish to Thai, an author and a volunteer in the field of Psychology from the department of social welfare.
Can you speak Swedish? Is the language and communication a problem? Did / do you find Swedish difficult to learn? Do you speak any other languages?
Yes I can and as good as most Swedish people as well. The Swedish language is not that difficult because the foundations of the language are from the English language. I picked up the basics in Thailand before I moved here as you were required to know a suitable amount. The Swedish language comes from the German language and means that it’s a combination of German, English and Scandinavian. The alphabet and pronunciation of some words are very similar and are spelt the same. For instance ” Nation ” is spelt the same as in English, but the pronunciation is different.
On arrival in Sweden I studied the language for a year and further on from that I went to study in high school with Swedish students. This gave me greater opportunities to increase my practicing of the language.
Other than Swedish, I can also speak English, I studied in Cambridge for one year. I could also adequately understand German and Spanish whilst in senior high school, but because I didn’t get to use it much at all, I’ve forgotten some. The majority of Swedish people speak and understand Norwegian and Danish also. I am the same, I can understand some Danish language but I cannot pronounce it.
How difficult was it adjusting to life and the culture of Sweden after growing up and living in Thailand? What were the most difficult things to adjust to? What were the main differences coming from Thailand and how long before you really became adjusted to life in Sweden?
From my own direct life experiences, the first part of adjusting to life in Sweden was a bit difficult. I was a girl who lived in a significantly private world. At home I lived and was taught in a very traditional Thai way. For instance, touching and playing about with other people’s heads, this is not popular or recommended with Thai people. Another would be to using the foot to touch another person with.These types of things I would never dare do, until nowadays.
But regarding food I never really had a problem. I was already familiar with foreign food whilst living in Thailand. For other Thai people who move to Sweden and as far as I can see, food is a very big subject. Thai people normally will stress they eat Thai food. This is very important to them. The problems that they normally speak of are that some foreign food is too greasy and fatty, and a lot of it does not really fill you up. Often though and of course, the husband will want his wife to eat his food with him. He is of course, proud of his food culture, the same as we are. There are often family members that are persistent that they cook for you. Often though, after the Thai wife has sampled the food or even eaten it all, she will give the verdict of … not delicious.
Most importantly is the price of Thai food here. It’s higher than all other foods and has an effect on the family economy.
Regarding Thai food in the relationship of husband and wife, well it appears to have phases. For the first part of your life in Sweden the husband will tolerate you cooking and eating Thai food all the time. He will be happy that you are happy. After about 2-3 years though, this starts to change, and he will feel it reasonable to expect you to eat Swedish food as well. This can cause arguments and these arguments can grow into bigger problems. You will hear the wife accuse the husband of not loving her anymore and not being allowed to follow her heart and do what makes her happy. This is what I have witnessed during my life time in Sweden.
The Swedish way of life, in so far as I know, follows a similar pattern. That is if we go with the assumption that the husband works all week from Monday to Friday and has weekends free. On the weekends, it basically means that they like to stay at home and rest with the family, doing things that make them happy and contented. They will rightfully think that they have worked hard all week, and now it’s their social time.
Ahh, but wait, not every weekend. For instance, the Thai wife is thinking that on some weekends that she would like some social time with her Thai friends. They may arrange a party and all make food together. Some people or groups of people may drink alcohol and play cards. Some of them want to do this every weekend. This is another subject that I suggest the Thai people think about, it can cause the husband to become very depressed.
Sunday’s for our family is totally a family day. When the children were younger and all living with us, Sunday’s was the day that we would all do things together.
For those that are coming or will come to live in Sweden, I’d like to give this advice. Spend some time researching information about the country before you arrive. Find out what Swedish people like, what types of food they eat, and the characteristics of Swedish people. Taking time to do this will be very beneficial as there will be far less problems in family relationships.
Another thing is, try practicing to cook Swedish dishes. When the time comes that you arrive in Sweden or whatever country you are going to, you will be able to cook the dishes without them being too greasy or fatty.
Swedish people will eat most types of food, but if I’m pushed for a favourite dish, then I’d have to say ” Swedish meatboll.” It’s the dish for all seasons. Mostly though, food patterns in Sweden will follow the seasons. When it’s hot, most people will eat colder food. When it’s the cold season though, then most Swedish people will stress that they need a more stodge based food in order to keep the body temperature up.
Is there a big Thai community in the Gothenburg area? Are you in contact with many Thai women as friends and do they tend to stick together? Do they all seem to adapt well to life in Gothenburg / Sweden?
Around the area of Gothenburg there are perhaps 2 – 3 thousand Thai people who live here. Do they have a good life? The majority of them probably have better lives here than they did in Thailand, if from a viewpoint of materials, comfort and convenience.
I have a reasonable amount of Thai friends, but as I previously mentioned, I am quite a private person. It basically means that I only have a very few close and special friends. During childhood and upon arriving here 30 plus years ago, I had a lot of friends. I can associate with everybody and have no prejudices against anyone, but now my free time is very scarce.
This is a massive generalisation, but what are the Swedish people like? What do they enjoy doing and what’s the personality of the Swedish?
What are Swedish men like? In my opinion they are very much the same in general as men all over the world. They like to have fun during their childhood and teenage years. As soon as they grow up though , they will have work and family commitments. When they finish work, then they will return home to the family, they love their families.
It’s similar with Swedish women. When they finish work, they will go home to the family, but the difference to Asian women is that Swedish women are self-confident, like fairness and equality,
With regards to gossiping, complaining and envy, then that’s basically the same as women all over the world. Both Swedish men and Swedish women are ”deep thinkers”, kindhearted, and very sensitive.
What is the cost of living like in Gothenburg / Sweden? Which in your opinion are the expensive things and which are the things of good value?
The cost of living is very high
3) The cost of the Dentist, this is very expensive
Following on from this I don’t have any answers, because everything is excessively expensive, especially taxation. For instance I work 2 – 3 jobs and must pay 51 % tax from my salary per month, because my income is higher than 50,000 krona each month. The house insurance is also higher because they combine mine and my husband’s income.
Could you give me three things that in your opinion are great about living in Gothenburg / Sweden? Could you then give me three things that are not so good about living in Gothenburg / Sweden?
1) All government authorities and systems work very well. Everything is organised and runs to plan without problems.
2) The welfare security is very good, like the state pension for instance. Money is accumulated and given to you on retirement from work at age 65 – 67 years old. Medical costs are also not too expensive.
3) The government give’s importance to children up to 18 years old or before they enter 25 years old. That’s very good.
4) Sweden is a country renowned for having less crime than other countries in Europe.
Not So Good
1) Each winter, and from the first day of winter that snow falls, (especially from Stockholm down) there will be car and train accidents. Every year though, this country are not prepared for road clearing or icy and slippery roads. Even though, this country has had snow falling every year for hundreds or thousands of years.
2) Thai food is expensive
3) Taxation is expensive (especially shops and owners of companies.) This is the reason why a lot of people might earn occasionally on the quiet, I presume. It’s like this, because the income and expenditure of owner does not fairly balance.
What would you say were the main problems in a Thai woman / foreign man romantic relationship? Are there any similar problems or misunderstandings that relationships have? I’m talking more to do with cultural differences really.
In my personal opinion and from what I’ve heard, sex can play a big part. Some husband and wives, after living together for a long time, don’t make love so often anymore. Sometimes, the husband can be as much as 10 years older than the wife and does not desire sex so often. The wife though, still needs the physical side of the relationship more often, but the husband is not able to give sufficiently. Therefore it’s a problem that continues to grow until somebody must leave to find another person or they find another way around the problem. For instance, go out at night to party and have fun, play cards and other gambling. They may do this to compensate for the activity that’s missing in their lives.
The women that I’ve met, don’t forget very easily when they’ve had a disagreement with their husbands. For example, if the husband and wife quarrel during the day, when the evening time has arrived, the husband has already forgotten the incident. He believes the incident to be over. Not only is it over, but he is now contemplating a spot of romance with his wife. However, the wife still very much hasn’t forgotten the quarrel. The husband then realises that instead of romance they will sleep back to back tonight. Another problem is language / communication together, for some families this is a very big problem.
Talking purely romance, then Swedish people are probably the same as everyone else in the world, although perhaps not quite to the extent of the Italians and French. If speaking from a point of view of love, then they are brilliant. They give genuine love, pay attention and continue to take care of you all the time.
Many times I have found myself comforting a Swedish male friend concerning love Khun Som laughs…. Swedish men will of course have their own views on romance, but there are times when it doesn’t correspond with the views of Thai women.
Some Thai women think that moving to Europe means a better life instantly. What advice would you give Thai women that were thinking of living in Europe? What would you advise them to beware of? Could you give me 3 things for them to think about before moving overseas?
I’d like to focus my advice on Sweden, as I have lived here for a long time.
Before doing anything else, I would suggest finding time to study the Swedish language before you come. If you can’t find a course in Thailand then have a search on ” You Tube.”
Find time to search the information concerning the country, like; what the customs are like, they are certainly very different from Thai customs. Find out about the nations important days of the year, and what they do together during those special occasions. What food they eat, study the laws and many other things… prepare yourself. You should ask your boyfriend about many of these things as he will feel good if he knows that you are interested in his country. It will make him love and respect you even more.
Go and try to eat some foreign food on occasions. You want to arrive prepared and familiar with the food. At least you will then know a bit about what food you like and don’t like. Also, table manners are very important.
If you are unemployed, due to waiting for your visa, then you ought to use the time and get trained in something. You could study to be a chef, hairdresser or dressmaker. Having knowledge in one of these types of fields will improve your chances of finding work. At the moment, chefs are in high demand, especially in big kitchens like in hospitals and schools.
Try to get to know and build an understanding with your future husband. Let him get to know the type of person you are and you get to know the type of person he is. That’s important. Tell the family back home the truth about life for you abroad, the reality, there is no need to build a picture to make things look better than they are. Tell the truth. There is no need to raise expectation levels too high by telling them that you will be able to send home a lot of money. You have to remember that you have not married a billionaire.
If you’re living here you have to try to watch Swedish television to practice your language. When you go out, try to remember about places that you have passed. If your husband lets you go out alone, then you have to think that this is my chance to learn. There is no need to feel bad with him for putting you in that situation. We ought to thank them, because it teaches us to get by and survive.
Telephone numbers are important. Numbers like Police, embassy, your husband and other people who are close to you, always keep these close to hand in case of emergency. Another important thing is to try to make merit. Show respect, and act modestly and humbly with relatives in general. There will be some adjustment bridges to cross, but it will be a lot easier if the new family members love you.
On newly arriving abroad (and after the honeymoon period is over), the one thing we are all unable to avoid is loneliness. A positive remedy for this is to find activities to do when staying in the house alone. Activities like practice making foreign food, in my case it was Swedish. Practice speaking the language and go for walks outside to familiarise yourself with the area you live in.
What are some of the things that you ought to be aware of?
Gambling: On arrival in new surroundings (after the honeymoon period is over), some people can become lonely and miss home. It generally means that they will go out and meet new friends, both Thais and non Thais, and this can often involve gambling. It generally starts as a daily cure for the loneliness, but can quickly transform into an addiction. Unfortunately, this can cause a great deal of problems to follow.
Don’t trust people too easily. Don’t talk about what’s not important, don’t complain about everything excessively. Most importantly, don’t try to take on the role of your husband’s mother.
Don’t go down the same road as some of your friends who feel the need to have the finest brand named goods. Having work and keeping busy is another very important subject. Don’t compare yourself to other people. Especially don’t compare another Thai woman’s husband to your husband, in either the spoken word or in thought. Basically meaning, don’t go comparing and then your husband gets to hear about it. I suggest that you keep your self to your self as much as possible. If you don’t understand something, then ask your husband, don’t try to interpret yourself.
I would like to add a bit more, because during the last two years there have been a lot of immigrants arriving in Sweden. I see Thai people post and complain to each other often that the Swedish government give great importance to the immigrants and some people are very angry with them as the tax money goes to the immigrants.
In so far as my knowledge of this subject goes, any countries citizens (of countries a member of the EU), has the privilege to travel and live freely within those countries. Aside from that, you have many immigrants that flee their countries because of civil war. Sweden has its quota of immigrants to take, a number of people who can enter the country. When they come, the Swedish government will get compensated by the organisation. I’m not certain as to how many immigrants enter the country on a monthly or annually basis though. They don’t spend all of the tax money for just this group of course, they have a budget and a board to take care of the subject. I advise that Thai people search suitable information on this subject and not stress unduly about it.
Sometimes, I think it’s not only foreign organisations such as the Ku Klux Klan that are revolting, but I’ve learnt that some Thai people think like them as well. So if you want to complain or vent your anger towards the immigrants, I suggest you retrace your own steps. What did you come to Sweden for? To be honest, 90 % of you came here because you wanted a better life than you had in Thailand. I myself came here after being adopted by my auntie, because at that time I was not able to continue with my studies in my own country, due to the family business dissolving. So why can’t people from other countries that fall on very hard times in their own country of birth not receive the same treatment. Everybody new that comes here must use government money, tax money from the country. You go and study the language free, your children that come with you – study free, you go and see the Doctor free etc. It’s still all public money from this country.
If you think in greater depth about the subject, then you will see that the immigrants actually bring money to the country in the beginning through the organisation. However, if accompanying husband / following family here, we don’t pay anything to Sweden before we start to work. Please don’t think and talk bad about the immigrants, it’s always wise to try wearing the shoes of another before before passing judgement.
I know well that ever since the next generation of immigrants have arrived here that crime has increased… that’s true. However, not everyone of them will be a bad person. It’s similar with the Swedish women that write blogs about Thai women and prostitution. This then gives Thai women a bad name and it becomes a big subject. On both accounts, ” One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch. ”
What are your passions in life. What are the things that you love to do when you have free time?
I love reading books. Every opportunity I get I will read murder novels, history, literature, anything where you have to engage your brain. Aside from that, I like to take the dog for walks, both him and I enjoy the exercise and I love to cook. I enjoy experimenting with and developing my own food recipes.
Do you still have family living in Thailand and do you miss them? Do you manage to get back to Thailand for a visit now and again?
I still have my Mother and Father in Thailand, I am the only child. I miss both the family and Thailand every day, very much. Regarding favourite places to visit in Thailand, I don’t really know that much. I left Thailand at an early age, and up to that point I only really knew Cha Am, and Hua Hin. However, if I was to give my truest answer, then it would be Yarowat, China Town, Bangkok. I enjoy food and the food here is just absolutely amazing, delicious and so much to choose from.
Have you ever felt unsafe in Gothenburg / Sweden at all or do you have to just be careful about where you go?
It used to be extremely safe. Now though, there is more crime than before, especially in the bigger towns and cities. Back when I was a teenager in the 1980’s, you were able to walk home in the dark without any fear at all. There was no need to keep looking behind you all the time, but the village that I live, there isn’t ever any problem, because everybody knows everybody and we continue to take care and look out for each other. If we were to be scared on returning home in the dark, then it’s more likely to be a ghost than anything else… (Khun Som laughs)
What are your other favourite places to visit in Sweden?
Places that I like the most in Sweden? The town of Ystad, deep in the southern region of Sweden is certainly one place. It’s a beautiful town that has a very beautiful seaside with a very long beach. it’s also a historical town with importance.
The city of Malmo is another city that’s located in the south of Sweden. You can go by boat from here across to Denmark and it doesn’t take many minutes to get there. Malmo is another beautiful place in Sweden.
In former times, I used to have a race horse and there would be big racing events held. Each year on the first weekend of September there are racing events at courses all over the country. There was a group of us that got together each year but we gave it all up 2-3 years ago and sold all our shares in the horse.
The capital city of the country is Stockholm and it’s a great place for people who like history. It’s worth spending one or two days in.
I haven’t toured around extensively, but every town that I have been to has been beautiful and well worth visiting. Finally, for people who have never been to Sweden, come down to the place where I grew up, Gothenburg. ”It used to be a very livable town, but now it’s okay.”
Read the full story of the life of Khun Penpayom Poolkett below