Today’s guest on Thai women living abroad is Khun Panadda, nickname Da. Khun Panadda was born and raised in Ubon Ratchathani in the north-east of Thailand, but moved to Venice, Italy in 1998. In this interview Khun Panatda talks about her observations and experiences from 20 years of living in Italy.
Introducing Khun Panadda
Photos by blueflower da.
When you first arrived in Italy from Thailand, were there any Italian cultures or practices that you found particularly strange. Something that could be termed as culture shock. Could you give me at least 3 instances please.
It’s now 20 years since I moved from Thailand to Italy. The cultural issues that surprised me the most were, firstly, the way that adults must serve the children. In Thailand the children respect and serve the adults, for example, cooking, washing cups and dishes, washing clothes and other things along those lines. In Italy though, it’s the opposite. I feel embarrassed that my partner’s mother must come to serve us. For example, Sunday’s in Italy are considered to be a family day, and all of the children will come to eat at mothers house. The family will all sit and wait comfortably at the dinner table whilst mother serves the entire meal from the first plate of food through to the last. Afterwards, the children will all return home leaving mother to complete the washing up on her own. This was really strange. If it was in Thailand, they’d all help each other until the work was complete, and then they would all return home.
Secondly, it would be the subject of Religion – The place where I live is a very small neighborhood of Venice and the people are very religious. Each and every Sunday they willingly enter the church together. No matter whether adults or children, a very high priority is given to religion.
Finally, I would say the subject of order. Whatever they do, they will always form an orderly queue with someone at the front and the others behind. Oh, there’s one more thing, the friendliness of Italians. No matter wherever they meet, or how many times a day they meet, they will always greet each other by crying out ” Ciao.” This was strange at first, but now though of course, I’m accustomed to it …. (Da laughs)
Just recently, I went to the confirmation of my friends grandchild, I sat in the church for 2 hours. Normally, I’m a person that doesn’t like church, but this time I really enjoyed the teachings of the priest. My Italian friend urged us to go outside together, ” this is boring, ” she said. I said, no, I will stay and listen until the ceremony finishes. I really did stay until it finished. Truly….. (Da laughs)
The priest said, that when he lived in Africa he bought a very beautiful yellow and purple orchid. As time past by the petals of the beautiful orchid flower dropped off, and the flower began to die. The priest then decided to buy another beautiful flowering orchid in order to replace the old one. Before the priest could throw the old orchid away, a lady that attended his church said to him, if you are going to throw the orchid away, could I have it please. This became a repeated process, in that every time the petals of the beautiful orchid flower dropped off, the priest bought a new orchid. When the lady came to church again, she saw that the flowers of the new orchid were now also dropping off and it was almost dead again. The lady asked the priest, what are you going to do with the flower this time? The Priest said, he would once again throw it away and buy a new one. The lady said, don’t bother buying a new flower, I will bring one in tomorrow. The next day the lady arrived with a very beautiful yellow and purple orchid. When the Priest saw the flower, he was shocked and asked, Is this the very first orchid that I threw away, yes said the lady. The lesson is that it’s easy to just buy a beautiful flower, in fact it’s easy come and easy go with the method of buying a beautiful flower. However, If you plan to grow flowers, then you must be patient, committed and give the flower great love and care. If you are patient and persistent, then one day you will have a very beautiful flower. This analogy can be applied to life as well. If you are patient, persistent, confident and have belief then improvement and growth in life will follow.
How difficult was it adjusting to Italian life and culture from a Thai national’s point of view? What were the most difficult things to adjust to.
Living in Italy and Italian culture was a big adjustment and quite a long process for me as it’s so different to living in Thailand. However though, I had to make the adjustment if I wanted to stay here. I found getting used to daily greetings and the food customs probably the hardest parts.
For example, when Thai adults meet together they will greet in the normal way with a Wai and say Sawat dee kha (female) or khrap (male.) This is the Thai greeting method. In Italy when you meet face to face you greet each other by saying Ciao and this is the Italian greeting. In Italy though, if you see that same person again you must also say Ciao again. In fact, if you were to see that same person 10 or 20 times during the day, you must always say Ciao. For me it becomes too much as one greeting is enough….. laughter.
“I think people in Italy live their lives better than we do. It’s an older country, and they’ve learned to celebrate dinner and lunch, whereas we sort of eat as quickly as we can to get through it.” – George Clooney
Another subject is food. In Thailand you can eat all day if you want to but in Italy they are very strict about their eating routine. They eat breakfast (7am), lunch (midday) and dinner / supper as their evening meal at 7 pm. Between meals they eat nothing. So, if you’ve had breakfast then you cannot eat anything else until lunch time.
Regarding the food style: Italians will have an appetizer first, then a main course and finally a dessert. Another thing is that they don’t mix meat and fish. So, if the main course is meat, then it will be all meat. If the main course is fish, then it will be all fish etc.
Italian people are not so fond of eating out, mostly they like to make food together in the home. It’s either that they are invited to somebody’s house or that they invite friends to their house. This happens far more as opposed to going out.
In Italy, Sunday’s are totally regarded as a family day. Children that have left home and left home with families of their own will return to eat at Mother and Father’s house on Sunday’s.
I worked all week and only had one day off which is Sunday. On my day off I wanted to wake up late, take it easy and have some private time. However, I still had to wake up early and go to church and afterwards have food at Mother and Father’s house. It’s good in some way’s though as it teaches us order and regulation. You must understand though that Thai people prefer tranquillity and an easy-going life as opposed to being rushed around in a world of rules and regulations. I must admit that sometimes living in Italy can make me edgy.
After living in Italy for quite a period of time, are there now cultural things that you find strange in Thailand when you return for a visit? In your opinion, what are the things that Italy do that you really like.
A man who has not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see.” – Samuel Johnson
Yes, it’s true that I moved to Italy, but I return to visit Thailand every year. Thailand is changing rapidly, especially in Bangkok. The roads, department stores, and the traffic jams that were bad enough before, but are now even worse.(Da laughs)
Now, Thai people have taken so much culture from foreigners that it’s hard to see what remains of Thai culture. For example, the subject of food, now, Thai people have become increasingly interested in sweet foods from abroad. They don’t like Thai sweet foods, like, khanom khrok, khanom thian, khanom chan and others such as these. Furthermore, these days, Thai children probably don’t even know about them either. Thai people visiting temples to listen to religious teachings are on the decrease, perhaps it’s due to having less time… I’m not sure, but it’s possible.
The things that I like in Italy: The first subject would be family life. Italian people love their families, and they will assemble together every Sunday at their parents house. The second subject would be knowing the rules regarding a pattern for living – live the simple way and know how to use the money. For the things that you really don’t need, you can live without them. The majority of Italian people aren’t rich, but they do have an ample enough standard of living. The third thing would be the lack of quarrelling. The Italians like the quiet life where there’s no need for wars and battles and I think that’s a good thing.
When you first arrived in Italy, how did you feel about Italian dishes? Which were the dishes that you liked and which were the dishes that you disliked? Were there any dishes that you felt were really strange, I mean something that you’d never really seen before?
In Italy, they add work and life on to food and wine. – Robin Leach
When I first came to Italy, I didn’t really have any problems with food at all. Normally, Italian people eat easy style. My favourite dish was seafood Spaghetti, and the next one on the list would be Pizza. When I first came to Italy I would see Italian people sitting together and eating a massive tray of Pizza. I was shocked, and used to think, how the hell can I eat something of that size. I’d eat one piece and be full up already. However, now I eat more than they do. Maybe even half a tray…. (Da laughs)
This was the dish that was really strange to me, it’s parma ham and slice melon. It’s a combination of sweet and salty, and this I found really strange. I have lived in Italy for 20 years and I can honestly say that I still cannot eat this dish.
Before you moved to Italy, did you perhaps think that the streets of Italy or that of foreign lands might be paved with gold? After living here in Italy for a while, how did you feel then? What are 3 things that you miss most about Thailand, and what 3 things could you now not live without if you left Italy?
Before I moved to live in Italy I didn’t think anything more than I’d like to travel abroad. Prior to this I studied as a travel guide. I wanted to be a guide because I thought I would get to travel, and without having to spend money. I also wanted to speak with and get the views of people from different races. However, as sometimes happens, I met with love beforehand and he hurriedly persuaded me to follow him to Italy. (Da laughs)
I never thought I would dig gold here, and I never thought anything about coming here would improve my life either. I just thought, if I didn’t like it, I could return home.
Before I arrived, I used to think that it was much more developed abroad. However, when I actually did come, It wasn’t anymore developed than back home. (Da laughs)
The things that I miss about Thailand the most are…
1) Times of difficulties: No matter whether it’s concerning documents or other things, you can search all around for somebody to help, but you won’t find anyone at all. Sometimes, its like you’re all alone in the world. Of course, when using our own language, we can speak and read competently, but that’s not the same case here. Whatever you do or whatever the situation, it can appear totally difficult.
2) Sunshine: When it’s winter, you almost don’t see the sun at all. I miss the sunshine in Thailand so much. (Da laughs) I feel that the winter is the loneliest season.
3) I miss my friends, I miss my father and mother, and I miss the contented lifestyle of Thailand. I sometimes crave the laughter, happiness and sabai jai (สบายใจ) way of Thailand. There’s happiness all the time, no matter if you have money or not. Most of the time I feel like people believe that happiness depends on quantity of money.
Nevertheless, Italy has taught me to be strong and to be independent. Italy has also taught me not to expect favours from others and made me much more mature. For that, I want to thank Italy immensely.
Things about Italy that I can’t live without, I don’t really have individual things as such. I can say though that Italy teaches you lessons in life and it has taught me a massive amount about life. If I had to choose though, I would choose Thailand, it’s my place of birth. Thailand is the motherland, and I always hope that one day I will return to the motherland.
Each country has good things and bad things, it depends on what we focus on and pay attention to.
What sorts of things is it advisable not to do in Italy?
They don’t really have that much that I’m aware of. The subject of religion though springs to mind again. It’s certainly advisable whilst in church not to eat anything, I mean even a boiled sweet. This is considered to be very impolite.
The next subject is Home Improvements: These are prohibited to do if you don’t get permission from the local council. If you go ahead and do them without permission, then you will be fined. The fine will be no small amount either and they will also tear down any construction as well. If you have money though…..you can do anything. In Italy, they like to preserve the old style buildings. The Government don’t care who the owner is, just as long as you preserve the land or the building. if you live in this area then you have to keep your property in the old traditional style. This is different from Thailand, whereby if you are the owner of a building or land, then you can change everything if you want.
Something that you are better off not doing in Italy, is driving in sandals. If you drive in sandals or flip flop type shoes then the insurance company will not take any responsibility if you have an accident. It’s the law. If you drive, then you must wear shoes, and if they are sandal like, then they must have a strap on them.
There’s not really any other things that are prohibited, that I can think of. Italy is still rather reserved compared to some of the other countries in Europe. People are inclined to show generosity in the countryside. They live a plain, simple and carefree life.
From what you’ve heard, know or have experienced, what are the main cultural differences that can cause problems between Thai women and Italian men.
The biggest problem that occurs between between Thai women and young Italian men is the subject of money. Thai people have a deep culture of looking after their parents. Problems especially arise when Thai women marry Italian men, move to Italy, and request money from the husband to send back to Thailand. This is not the culture of Italian people and they don’t really understand. It then in many cases leads to problems and quarrelling. The majority of Thai men are deeply attached to the family, especially to the mother. Thai women are often accustomed to a certain level of independence. When some Thai women arrive and meet a situation where the Mum and her son have such a strong bond, you can feel like your opinion doesn’t really matter. This can be quite stressful. You tolerate this in the beginning, but in the longer term it starts to fester and can cause arguments.
A couple of other problems that I found…..
On Dress Code
I like to dress in casual easy-going clothes, like a T-shirt and jeans, but my husband wanted me to dress up all the time. I must wear a proper shirt and trousers or a skirt with nice shoes. I had to look meticulous when seen out together all the time. In Thailand I was never subjected to a constant dress code and this caused a problem between us.
On an Eating Routine
Thai people love to pick and eat in an easy-going way throughout the day, but the Italian way is strictly to time and by set meal times.
Could you give me three things that in your opinion are great about living in Italy? Could you then give me three things that are not so good about living in Italy?
Move to Italy. I mean it: they know about living in debt; they don’t care. I stayed out there for five months while I was making a film called ‘Order Of Death,’ and they’ve really got it sussed. Nice cars. Sharp suits. Great food. Stroll into work at 10. Lunch from 12 till three. Leave work at five. That’s living!” – John Lydon
First of all I would like to say that Italy is a beautiful country and the weather is often nice and not cold. In fact summers are hot and almost as hot as Thailand , but shorter of course – only 3 months.
The first good thing is that in Italy, they teach you to love the City or place that you were born and prosperity gets dispersed into the locality. It’s not the same in Thailand where prosperity is accumulated all in Bangkok and then people outside the capital City must travel to Bangkok to find work. But in Italy, every place has equal prosperity and opportunities.
In the time that I have been here I have been thankful to Italy for teaching me to adapt to a culture and a country that is different from my own.
Italy does not divide between classes and admires all people who work. It doesn’t matter what work you do, whether a road sweeper or other. As long as you don’t agitate others, you are treated all the same. I like this and they are good people.
It can get lonely on your own without anyone to turn to for advice or to discuss things with.
There’s a lot of double-dealing , and of course politicians all talk a good story, but they never do anything. (The same with most countries.)
The tax here is expensive.
However though,I would like to say thank you to Italy because Italy turned me into a strong and independent lady and I can take care of myself.
So, what exactly is living in Venice like?
When I seek another word for ‘music’, I never find any other word than ‘Venice’. – Friedrich Nietzsche
Venice is a City with the most beautiful architecture in the world. It’s a City that is perfect for tourists and short visits but in my opinion is not really a place to live forever. However, if you are a lover of traditional beautiful architecture and history, then Venice will not disappoint.
The photo above shows some angles of Venice, this is one of the photographs I took.
Venice is certainly a romantic City. It’s especially romantic at night with the most beautiful of atmosphere’s.
I know photography is a big passion of yours and Venice must be a wonderful place to take photos. Have you taken many photo shoots of Venice?
Oh certainly, I love it.
This photograph is of the massively important Roman Catholic church, the ” Madonna di Salute,” The full name is ” Santa Maria della Salute ” and in English this means; Saint Mary of Health. More often than not it’s just simply known as ” Salute. ”
The photograph below is of the canal in Venice. I shot this from the Riato bridge. This is a very important bridge and whoever comes to visit Venice will certainly need to visit this bridge.
Venice has always fascinated me. Every country in Europe then was run by kings and the Vatican except Venice, which was basically run by councils. I’ve always wondered why. – Alan Furst
This bridge has a story to tell. If lovers stand on this bridge at night when there is a full moon and kiss together at midnight, then they will get to stay together forever. I have not done this yet, but maybe I will, when I find the special one…. (Da laughs.) These are all photographs that I took myself.
Can you see the bridge that I was talking about with the people standing on it? Then above that bridge, can you see another bridge with two windows. The window on the right hand side is a Palace. The window on the left hand side is a an underwater jail for detaining prisoners, and they will die in here as well.
This bridge is called “The last dying bridge” because this will be the final time that the prisoner will get to see light before dying. They say that on the night of a full moon, water will drip down from the bridge. I still have never seen this, but this is what they say. They also say it’s a sacred bridge and that if you make a wish about love, then it will come true.
A Wander Through Venice
13 stops down the canals of Venice from Philip Bloom
I cannot write about Venice; I can only write about me, and the sleeping parts of myself that Venice has shocked into wakefulness. ― Jessica Zafra
Amazing Venice from Harinarayan Rajeev
Italy will never be a normal country. Because Italy is Italy. If we were a normal country, we wouldn’t have Rome. We wouldn’t have Florence. We wouldn’t have the marvel that is Venice. – Matteo Renzi
INTERVIEWS IN THAI – By Khun Panatda