Local Customs, Thai Traditions & Dos and Don’ts
Thai people are some of the friendliest people on the planet. Thailand is not called the Land of Smiles for no reason. Wherever you go, whatever you do, you will most likely be greeted not just with a gentle smile but with a huge warm toothy grin. You may be catching a taxi; ordering some street food; buying a pair of trousers or checking in at a five-star hotel. Thais smile for the simplest little reason and it is welcoming, reassuring and very heartwarming.
It is customary when greeting Thai people to ‘wai’ them and you can smile at the same time. The procedure of a wai is to press both palms together while bringing your fingertips to your nose. Usually, it is expected than younger people will wai older people first as a sign of respect. Therefore, Thai society may certainly be seen as hierarchal. Thais prefer this way of greeting people but nowadays many of the younger Thais will just as quickly try to shake your hand as in the Western form of greeting.
Over 90% of people in Thailand are Buddhist. Buddhists believe in Karma and what goes around comes around. Buddhists believe that how you conduct yourself in this life will have an effect on you when you are reborn in the next life. In Thailand, the majority of people within the resort destinations will speak some English. If you decide to speak a little Thai, you will be very well received with a big smile. Half of the smile will probably be because of your brave attempt at speaking their somewhat difficult language. The other half of the smile will be because of your poor tonal attempt. With 44 consonants and 33 vowels, Thai script and 5 tones, it certainly is not one of the easier languages to learn. Nevertheless, a little effort goes a long way in Thailand.
The family unit in Thailand is very important within Thai culture. Unlike in Western society where when the children leave home they tend not to provide for their parents, Thailand is the opposite. Most children will give some of their salary to their parents and relatives as this is the accepted norms and traditions of their culture to look after their older relatives. Thais also do not like to ‘lose face’ meaning they do not enjoy confrontation. Instead, they will try to be as polite and deferential as possible in order to keep the status quo. Whatever happens, if you find yourself in a situation where you bump into someone or accidentally offend someone, apologize profusely and smile as much as possible. This will keep you out of trouble in pretty much most situations.
If you are invited to someone’s house for lunch or dinner, it is expected that you will bring some small present as a gift to show gratitude. Usually, fruit or some flowers will be more than adequate. If you are sitting on the floor as many Thai families still like to do, try to refrain from pointing your feet in the direction of other people. Instead, keep them tucked under your body for politeness. It is also not recommended to touch Thai people on the head! Interestingly, Thai people love their food and like to eat together sharing all the food they have between them. Moreover, after Thai people meet each and ask how they are doing, they will usually then ask if the other person has eaten yet – gin khao roo yang krab? This is very common in Thai society.
Some dos and don’ts in Thailand. When hailing your taxi or tuk-tuk it is considered rude in Thailand to hold the fingers up while beckoning as people usually do in Western countries. In Thailand, your fingers should always point downwards while beckoning a taxi or people like waiters. When visiting temples, ladies should not leave their shoulders and legs exposed and men should wear shirts and trousers. You should always take off your shoes in temples and when entering people’s houses and you must never point your bare feet towards any statues of Buddha.
The King of Thailand and his family are held in the very highest esteem in Thailand. Do not under any circumstances say or do anything derogatory to the Royal family. The outcome will probably not be pleasant for you! When in Thailand, it is also considered culturally polite and pleasant that, if you see two Thai people talking, and you have to walk between the two of them to get past, that you dip your head as you pass between them to be respectful. This is not observed in Western culture but is very important and appreciated in Thailand.