Thailand is a country of uniforms; from
the security guard to business clubs, wearing a uniform of a type identifies
who you are, what you do and how you fit into society. Many foreigners often
seem to have difficulty understanding the need for uniforms but if we look
at ourselves a bit more closely we will see that we, too, wear uniforms of a
type. They may be less “official” but uniforms they are, nonetheless.
Today I was at a café and saw two youngish foreign tourists. Immediately
identifying them as twenty something backpackers, I had them placed in the
niche I knew. It wasn’t that they were carrying backpacks, they were not,
but they both (one male and one female) wore a style of clothing that only
the young backpacker tourist type wears. Long term expats, regardless of
age, generally don’t dress this way.
They were as easily identifiable as tourists as are the men who wear the
Beer Chang singlets or the Chinese tourists with their loose, colorful
clothing and predilection for hats. Clothes that local resident expats would
also not wear since these, too, identify one as a tourist. This may not be
an official uniform but the fact that these are widely worn by a certain
group of people doing a certain kind of thing make it, in my eyes, a kind of
uniform. Something by which we immediately identify this person, their place
in society and what they do.
We have an old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” but the fact of the
matter is that we all do. It is human nature and the ability to meet a
stranger and judge them as a friend or foe, dangerous or safe, goes back to
before we became human I believe. That ability to assess and judge was key
to our survival and is something that, although we in the West disdain, is
something we do nonetheless. Here the uniforms just make it clearer and
easier to assess.