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Cordelia: Multilingual Mama

In our InterNations Recommended Blog section we let you take the spotlight! Expat life in general is, of course, a perfect breeding ground for great, user-generated reads, and life in Bangkok makes no exception. Take your time and browse the great blogs showcased in this article!
Photo by Cameron Julie

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Bangkok, etc.

I am a Franco-American expat, originally from New York City. My name is Cordelia and I moved to Bangkok from Singapore with my Mexican husband and two little girls just over two-and-a-half years ago. In addition to extensive time spent New York, France, and Thailand; I’ve also lived in Singapore, Great Britain, and Turkey.

When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?

I started blogging shortly after we moved to Singapore back in 2010. I had given up a very rewarding job at a social innovation lab of sorts. I decided this was the perfect opportunity to use this ‘time off’ to start writing again. As a professional procrastinator, a blog seemed like a good way to get into the habit of writing. I started out mostly blogging about parenting and language and eventually branched out.

Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?

Hmmm that’s a tough one. I guess my favorite Bangkok related post is my entry for an expat blog competition called: 20 Ways You Know You’re Embracing Your Inner Thai.

Tell us about the ways your new life in Bangkok differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?

My life is radically different here. I don’t even know where to start!

The biggest struggle was and continues to be language. The longer I live here, the more I hate the fact I can’t talk with locals easily. Having grown up multilingually, I am not used to struggling to communicate with people. I am just starting a new online language program in an effort to conquer speaking Thai. I’ll be chronicling this endeavor in a new series called Thai Tuesdays. I also think the lack of Thai language skills aggravates the culture shock.

What took me by surprise the most was the fact that the culture shock has grown over time. The longer I live here, the more I understand how radically different Thais and their way of thinking is to the way many -- and quite likely all -- of us westerners were brought up.

The positives are that I don’t have to live in a shoebox and my husband and I no longer argue over things like dishes and laundry, which may seem trivial but has made a huge difference to our interactions. I used to share my house with monster-sized dust bunnies. Now we occasionally have some little ‘dust ants’. I love that I can now dedicate my time to things that I enjoy doing vs scrubbing the toilet and endless loads of laundry.

Another major difference is that I’d be working if I were back home. Here, due to Thai laws, finding employment isn’t a given for me. And this brings me to a different sort of culture shock that’s more general to expats.

With the global economy’s growing instability, there are increasing numbers of expats who don’t fit the traditional definition – i.e. sent over by their company with a generous package. Some expats don’t understand the limitations faced by those of use that are making these moves on our own dime. For example: people look at me like I am crazy to homeschool my kids but I’d rather be able to fly home and see my ageing parents than shell out for huge international school fees. Without the possibility of a second income, our lifestyle has improved in many ways but not without some tough choices.

Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Bangkok? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?

I don’t think anyone can ever be fully prepared for any move abroad. Looking at this logistically, I would have spent more time finding out what I can’t get a hold of here and packing it with me – like bras and bathing suits that fit something larger than two mosquito bites. I also wouldn’t have bothered bringing a stroller <she types wistfully remembering the wide smooth Singaporean pavements>.

The rest I sort of feel you need to experience to really grasp.

Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?

My favorite expat anecdote is not from Thailand but from my time in the UK. I had just adopted a dog from Battersea dog’s home and was walking my new big hairy monster. She was a mix Rottweiler/German Shepherd and the sweetest and shyest dog every. Another dog owner walked up to me and we chatted for a bit and she asked very earnestly: “Is your dog a bitch?” My eyes popped wide open; I very politely insisted that “no, no, she is a very sweet and lovely dog!” Bawhahahaha I had no idea that Brits used bitch and dog to describe gender. Of course a decade later, I proceeded to shock lots of dog owners in Brooklyn with the reverse mistake. Can’t win!

Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Bangkok?

  • Buy a good motorcycle helmet before you move. 
  • Don’t ever take a taxi that won’t put on the meter.
  • It’s best to learn to laugh at yourself, because I can assure you that patience and an ability to not take things too seriously will really help you survive here.

How is the expat community in Bangkok? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?

This is probably the second biggest challenge for me after language. With all my previous international moves, bar Singapore, I was working and had an instant group of people to talk to. In Singapore, the island is so small and the expat community so large, you meet expats very easily and they are very willing to engage with new people. I assumed it would be the same in Bangkok. I think the size of the city and its legendary traffic negatively affects potential friendships, particularly for those of us who have families to look after. If I were childless, mobility would probably be less of an issue but even then, the traffic wears you down. A couple of trips spending two hours stuck in traffic with kids just ends up ruling out whole chunks of the city and the people who live there.

How would you summarize your expat life in Bangkok in a single, catchy sentence?

Bangkok reminds me of life in New York City in the early 80s: colorful, diverse, odorific, challenging, and unexpected – with the advantage of feeling much safer & being much cheaper!

Martin Beck

"I've been looking for a shop where to buy German food here in Bangkok. Fellow expats on InterNations finally told me how to find the right stores."

Helen Laidboe

"It' such a a pity that we have to leave Bangkok soon. I'll miss the InterNations expat community so much, especially the great events!"

Global Expat Guide