Thailand is a magnificent country but many of their traditions and customs are very different to what we are perhaps more familiar with in the West. Whilst there are things that are plain bad manners anywhere in the World, not wearing a shirt in a bar, for example, there are some things that are different here so here are the things that you should perhaps consider.
In Thailand as with most other Asian countries, losing face is something that should be avoided at all costs. You should never lose your temper, be confrontational or show excessive emotions or be overtly affectionate. Elders should always be respected but a person’s education and the clothes can all play a huge influence on the respect that you will command.
The traditional Thai greeting is a Wai which involves pressing the palm of your hands together and bowing your head. This should be done by someone younger or of a lower status, for example, you would not expect a monk to Wai.
The feet are also a very sensitive part of Thai culture. You should never point with your feet, show someone the sole of your foot, put your feet on a table (not that this should be done anywhere) or have your feet higher than someone’s head.
Finally, the Thai national anthem is played every day at 8am and 6pm where you should stop what you are doing and observe the anthem. It is also played in cinemas prior to a film where you will be expected to stand in silence.
What to Do
- When entering a temple, someone’s home and some shops always remove your shoes and leave them outside.
- Always dress respectfully especially when inside. This means wearing shirts, not wearing skirts too short, and covering the shoulders and chest area.
- When you first meet someone always refer to them a ‘Khun’ which is effectively Mr or Mrs.
- Always show respect for the royal family which means observing the national anthem and never making any negative comments about the family.
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What Not to Do
- Never touch a monk especially if you are female.
- Never show the bottom of your feet even accidentally as this can cause great offence.
- Never touch a person’s head or face and never pass something above someone’s head, again, even if this is inadvertently.
- Do not be overtly affectionate in public – kissing and hugging between couples in often consider inappropriate especially the older generation.
- Never wear bathing suits anywhere except the beach or at a swimming pool. Women should never go topless and this is a criminal offence in Thailand.
Food plays a very important part of Thai life but once again, it is a situation that requires you to observe some common decency. Although most Thai food is eaten with a fork and spoon some may be eaten with fingers. In this situation, always use your right hand and never be tempted to lick your fingers. The seating at a Thai meal may be arranged by social hierarchy so it is best to wait until you are told where to sit. Although this is becoming less common, in some more traditional situations, finishing all your food suggests that you are still hungry.
Generally, if you adopt good manners and are polite, most indiscretions will be tolerated but try to ensure you follow the basics to avoid causing too much offence.
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