Being Thai I: Thai Courtesy

HILL TRIBE GIIRL SMILES WITH HAT IN NORTHEN THAILAND

The first and automatic reaction of this young girl when seeing “farangs ” or foreigners coming toward her, was to bring us her shy smile. Moving. Was Phra That Suthep, Chiang Mai. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda image 1 of 15previousnextclose

 

When we were still at home, before moving into Thailand, we read all we could all that is at hand, to know at least a little bit about the culture, customs, courtesy rules, etiquette way, just to not feel so out of place, or not to offend a Thai person, summarizing, we try to learn what being Thai means, and how we could get at it.

In this section we will try to present you different, simple aspects of Thai life but at the same time, so representative of their culture, as are Thai courtesy and etiquette rules . As well, we will try to explain the reason behind some very Thai gestures, which  many times leave us wondering what  really we had being really said; or those  which we  sometimes, if not many, fail to notice, but  that , at the time of living here, are so important.

Based on own experience of years living here and after doing some research, we hope this section to be helpful for your “landing”.. Additionally, we suggest where to gather further information. In this way, we are introducing you to Thailand, so you will make your own informed decisions.

 

Being Thai

 

Thailand, land of smiles and hospitality. You will find this welcoming lady next to the door to nearly all restaurants, shops or hotels. She is commonly named "Wai Lady". Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Thailand, land of smiles and hospitality. You will find this welcoming lady next to the door to nearly all restaurants, shops or hotels. She is commonly named “Wai Lady”. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Koh Pai 12 March 13-035

Thailand, Land of smiles. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

“Land of the Free. Land of Smiles. The former is a literal translation of the word Thailand, the latter a promotional slogan, and a truthful one at that. Beneath their graciousness, The Thais have a strong sense of self and a humanity without subservience. It is this pride of themselves that underlies their sense of identity and their ability to smile at the vicissitudes of life.” *

* This is an excerpt from the Introduction of Thailand, Insight Guides, Southeast Asia, by Discovery channel.

When ones comes for first time , before coming to Pattaya our- in near future home city, we usually stay in Bangkok, for a few days , just to let the effects of the  jet lag go, but  also and mainly,  to have a taste , a first immersion in  what will be our new home country for a while, at least.

Anxious for all what awaits us, and after a long trip in which we left Home, we found ourselves seated on a taxi   surrounded by all our suitcases and emotions  going from Thailand’s International airport, Suvarnabhumi, into Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand , through an incredible maze of traffic, uncountable – glass and metal skyscrapers, glamorous shopping Malls. At that moment, our first impression is  quite distant from the exotic Siam portrayed in travel lore, or in our memory of some movies,  where people move in boats, and in the distance we might see  temples with brightly coloured and  golden spires roofs, palaces surrounded by neatly ,manicured  gardens.

This, however, will only be a first impression, one which is destined to fade very soon, just to be replaced by the exhilarating feeling and suspicion that, if one scratches beneath the appearance of all that western-modernism, local traits unique to the Thai culture will provide us with what we were looking for and hoping to discover with our own eyes.

The first sign will be, beyond any doubt,  the hospitality of its people, the way in which Thais welcome they visitors, their easy smile, that make you feel as being at home…so far from Home..

 

Thai music, Thai smiles , traditional dance and dresses, greet the visitor and believers at the base of Wat Phra That Suthep, Chiang Mai. Photo Credit: Silvia Mudaimage 3 of 15previousnextclose

Thai music, Thai smiles , traditional dance and dresses, greet the visitor and believers at the base of Wat Phra That Suthep, Chiang Mai. Photo Credit: Silvia Mudaimage 3 of 15previousnextclose

 

Thai Courtesy

Thai customs and etiquette are subtle and complex, representing a diverse and rich cultural tradition. As a foreigner, we will find many aspects quite perplexing so it is advisable to maintain an open mind and tolerant attitude at all times. Thai people, on the whole, are gracious hosts and will forgive any innocent breaches of etiquette on our part.

However, knowing a few basic rules  may help us avoid an embarrassing situation, and following them will not only prevent you from accidentally offending locals, it will also separate you from the tourist hordes who visit every year. Thailand is known as the “Land of Smiles” for a reason: The people will usually forgive simple infractions of Thai etiquette, if you are not ill intentioned, smiling.

Thais place great emphasis and value on outward forms of courtesy such as politeness, respect, genial demeanour and self-control in order to maintain harmony, and many of their rules of etiquette are by-products of the Buddhist religion whose belief in earthy impermanence had made the Thais a lovely-impassive people who appear to be unruffled by any event.

They tend to rise above daly problems of this life with a “mai pen rai” attitude (a fast translation of never mind). They can accept frustrating situations with the greatest of ease and never seem to be in too much hurry for anything, sometime for our dismay…

Thais also avoid extremes, especially when it comes to show emotions. Thailand is a non-confrontational society, in which public dispute or criticism is to be avoided at all costs.To be openly angry with someone might attract the wrath of the spirits, which in turn, could cause violence and tragedy.

However, the strong Western influence has made the Thais of Pattaya much more tolerant of foreign ways. In most instances, they assume that if we are doing something inappropriate it is simply because we do not know better. Pattaya’s Thais are much more relaxed than their “up country” relatives, who live without any strong western impact, and where Thai traditions are strongly held and respected.

Nevertheless, if a foreign makes the effort to respect Thai customs, the Thais will appreciate you the more for it. But always be aware of what you are wearing, your general manner and avoid very affectionate gestures with others in public.

 

Etiquette

Thailand is a land of friendliness and hospitality. It is also a land of traditions and customs that differ greatly from those of the Western world. As a foreigner, you might not be expected to effortlessly navigate the complex world of Thai etiquette. However, having a basic understanding of what is acceptable, what is frowned upon, and what is outright taboo can make a big difference in your social and professional life.

If Only I’d known..

It is important at any given time to remember that we are guests in Thailand, for that reason we should , or must, respect their customs, religion and believes. Also, honor and follow Thai social rules, that might be different from  the ones of your home country, but not for that they are worst or worthless.  Having this in mind will help you to navigate comfortably in Thai courtesy and Etiquette waters.

Things to Know

Loosing Face: As in many Asian cultures, the concept of loosing face plays a large role. Being confrontational, losing your temper, or showing strong negative emotions in public are all considered very negative in Thai culture. Not only will you lose face and look bad, you will also find that this sort of behavior is not productive in accomplishing what you want to accomplish. Avoid doing anything that might cause you or your Thai friends to lose face.

Also, openly criticizing a person is seen as a form of violence as it hurts the person and is viewed as a conscious attempt to offend the person being rebuked. Criticizing someone in this manner would cause them to “lose face” and loss of face is a disgrace to a Thai, which is why they try to avoid confrontations and look for compromises in difficult situations.

Keep cool tempered: Do not lose your temper or rise your voice at home or in the office; it is considered unseemly and counterproductive. Thais do not respect such behaviour. Jai yean means “cool heart” and it is a trait greatly admire by Thai people.

If Only I’d known:

Never shout to a  Thai person when you think she or he is not understanding what you are requiring or when they have committed a mistake. Be serious and firm, but do not shout. You won’t get what you ar looking for, and ,in the best of  the situations, the Thai person whom you shouted, automatically will stop understanding English, and will stay there ,staring at you with blank face , or, it might occur that  she or he will just leave you talking with yourself. If you had paid some money, well, just forget it.

Smile: The Thai smile is really famous and essential to Thai etiquette; Thais show it whenever they can. Always return someone’s smile. Smiles are used during negotiation, in apology, to relax whenever something goes not as planned, and just in everyday life.

 

If Only I’d known…

But be aware that a Thai’s smiling assurance does not mean that you will get what , how and when you want it. It simply reflects that Thai appreciation of harmony and their “never mInd” attitude. The possibility that you were given exactly the opposite of what you had asked, while showing you  a broad smile, is very high.

 

Thai bride smiliing for the camera in bangkok temple

Despite of have being seated for more than forty minutes waiting for her hair dresser to finish, this beautiful Thai you woman had time and wiliness to smile us. Very Thai. photo Credit: Silvia Mudaimage 4 of 15previousnextclose

2 thai girls performing traditional thai dance with umbrella in Doi Suthep Chiang Mai northen thailand

Thai smiles, for all times and situations. Photo Credit: Silvia Mudaimage 5 of 15previousnextclose

 

Thais are very patient, tolerant, gracious and accepting people. Any attempt you make to learn their language and understand their culture will be greeted with smiles.

Thai culture is strongly hierarchical. Respect must be given to those of higher social status, and to elders. Education, profession, age, and clothing all help to place a person within this hierarchy and to shape the way with which that person is treated by others. A person’s social status also determines how they should be greeted.

 

Monk ceremony in Ayhuttaya city thailand

Monks rank high in Thai social hierarchy, so they seat higher that the common people. Also when sitting in a Wat, your feet never should point toward any image or a monk, and must be tucked under our bodies. Wat Nivet Thamaprawat, Ayutthaya. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Monk being respected by vowing thai citizen in bangkok city thailand

Thais are deeply respectful of social hierarchy, where monks and royals are at a the higher level, as seen in this picture. Photo Credit: Silvia

 

Thai Greeting. Among Thais, it is not common to touch someone’s hand when greeting them. The typical Thai greeting is the Wai, which could mean “Hello”, “Thank you” “I’m Sorry”, or “Good Bye”,and, involves pressing your palms together and bowing your head slightly.

 

hill tribe gilrs talking and waing at wat doi suthep thailand

Since an early age, Thai children are taught how to wai. Sweet scene where friends are helping the youngest to wai, and doing so, to greet people entering the temple area. Wat Phra That Suthep, Chinag Mai. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Thai people praying with candles at chiang mai temple Wat Doi Sutthep

When worshiping or asking for wishes to be granted, Thais  also wai, as we can see in  this believer in Wat Phra That Suthep, Chiang Mai. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

The higher the hands are placed, the more respect is shown. Subordinates might rise their fingers as high as their nose. Typically, the person of lower status offers the Wai. Thais of very high social status, such as monks, are not expected to return the Wai.

 

alady praying to buddha in Nakhon Pathom

The highest wai is reserved for Buddha images. Chedi Phra Nakhon, Nakhon Pathom. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

It is considered rude to lie. Even white lies, which might be generally more acceptable in Western culture, depending of the situations, are taboo. If someone says something to you that seems a bit too direct, don’t take offense—just understand that honesty is the cultural norm in Thailand.

There are also important customs and etiquette surrounding the feet. They are considered to be the lowest and least clean part of the body. You should never show someone the bottoms of your feet, point with your feet, or have your feet higher than the level of someone else’s head.

Expected behaviour in Wats ( temples) and toward religious images: Buddhist temples and royal palaces are sacred places. When visiting them, it is important to be suitable dressed. Dress codes  are particularly strict in palaces and royal wats, especially those that are active. Also, religious images are sacred, so it is advisable to show respect behaving properly when being in front of them, in temples or outside them.

 

Monk blessing foreigner woman with water in traditional ceremony in Wat-Naphramera-Wat-Na-Phra-Men

We are expected to behave properly when going to Thai temples, respecting Thai religion and believes, as we do in any temple of any religion, in any country. Wat Naphramera (Wat Na Phra Men), Ayutthaya. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

We have listed some tips that you will find useful at the time of greeting a Thai person, going to a Thai home or a Thai temple. It is not that you have to memorise all this, our intention was for you to have an idea. It is not that difficult, you will find yourselves following them very soon.

If Only I’d known…

  • Do not be surprised if you are asked by any Thai ”Where are you going?”, rather than “Hello”… it doesn’t matter whether you meet her or him for first time, they just will ask you, every time you meet. A polite response is “ just down the street”.
  • Addressing Thai  people : Often, the title khun is added before the first name. This is similar to Ms, Mrs or Mr and is used for both men and women, regardless of marital status. Family names are typically only used in formal settings.
  • When addressing an “elder” the title “pii” is commonly used.
  • In Thai culture it is not considered impolite to ask someone their age as people want to know how to address you in the future. So, do not feel offended when after two or three minutes into a conversation, the Thai person would just ask you ..”How old are you, Madam..or Mister? Do not show someone the bottom of your feet, or allow your feet to be higher than the level of someone’s head.
  • Do not touch someone’s head, even a child’s, is considered disrespectful, and should be avoided. In Thailand, the head is considered to be the high, sacred part of the body, and the feet the lowest part. People will generally try to keep their heads at a lower level than those they consider their superior, with their feet hidden in as discretely as possible.
  • Try to not show displays of affection in public. Couples kissing or hugging in public is considered rude and inappropriate.
  • Remove your shoes whenever you enter someone’s home.
  • When visiting Thai people in their home , remember  never place your feet on the table or chair.
  • Crossed legs are consider to be impolite: while sitting in a chair you should not cross your legs as this often leads to point your foot at someone.
  • Avoid stepping over people who are sitting or sleeping on the ground.
  • Put your hands in your pockets while talking to someone. Never put your arm over the back of the chair on which somebody is sitting.
  • Wear modest, neat clothing. Since social status is often determined by clothing, it is important to present a well-groomed and conservative image.
  • Try to avoid wearing short shorts, low-cut or revealing clothes. Generally, bathing suits or other revealing attire are only appropriate on the beach.
  • Respect the Anthems: Always stand quietly when the Royal Anthem and the National Anthem are played. The National Anthem is played daily at 8,00 am and at 18,00 in parks and some other public places, and simultaneously broadcast on television and radio. The Royal Anthem is played when the  monarch is actually or symbolically present, and at cinemas before a movie is screened.
  • Respect Thai Monarchy: Never be disrespectful to the Monarchy or royal Family in any way at any time, personally or their images, and this, includes currency. Openly disrespecting the king can mean imprisonment with an option for the death penalty, under Lese Majesty Law...
  • Respect Dress Code when going to visit a Wat, men should wear enclosed shoes, long trousers and a shirt with sleeves and women should wear enclosed shoes, trousers, skirts or dress, but  remember that skirts or dresses should not be above the knee. Ensure shoulders and top of arms be covered. Shorts or capri pants (pants longer than shorts but are not as long as trousers ) should not be worn. Some places, such as the Grand Palace, will provide ( one has to leave a small amount of money as deposit ) suitable clothing to visitors.
  • Remove shoes before entering the main sanctuary of a wat, and do not step on raised door thresholds
  • When sitting on the floor in a wat , the feet should be ticked away under your body ( never your feet aiming an Buddha image or any other image consider sacred, also whether  you go to an Hindu temple, per example). who are kneeling in prayer. Whispered, brief conversations are acceptable.>
  • Never touch a monk or novice, especially if you are a woman. Monks are forbidden to have any physical contact with women, and this is strictly observed. Women should avoid placing any object directly on monks’ hands.

 

Lampang architecture traditional house style in Thailand

Remove your shoes when entering a Thai house. Lampang, northern Thailand. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Wat Somphom Chaochengsao, leaving shoes outside the temple

Before entering any Wat, you should remove your shoes. This is valid for everybody, regardless the age. Wat Somphom, Chaochengsao. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

Need to Find Out More About The Tourist Police? Visit: www.tourist.police.go.th

Meeting etiquette

You can meet a lots of people and make a lots of new friends in Thailand. Thai people are easy-going and foreigners are quickly forbidden for any minor mistakes in etiquette. However, to avoid embarrassing anyone, or causing anyone to lose face, you should have a general idea of what is expected when meeting someone for the first time.

 

If Only I’d Known…

  • If you are with a Thai friend or host, wait for them to introduce you.
  • Thais usually use their first name, with the all-purpose Khun in front of them.
  • The traditional greeting is a wai.
  • When someone offers a wai as a greeting, it is considered rude not to return it. However, you are not expected to return a wai to children. Return the same greeting your Thai host or business college gives; if they wai, then you may do the same, or bow or nod your head. But, foreigners are not expected to know all nuances of the wai.
  • When greeting a monk, please remember that monks receive higher wais than ordinary people
  • Do not point anyone. Pointing at someone is considered rude in many cultures, but particularly so in Thailand. If you must indicate someone, do so by lifting your chin in their direction. When motioning for someone to come over, wave your hand with fingers straight and pam down. Pointing at inanimate objects and animals is usually acceptable.

 

Dining Etiquette

The people of Thailand pride themselves on their hospitality. As such, there is a good chance that you will be invited to a meal. Whether this invitation involves going to a nice restaurant or someone’s home, make you that you know the basic of dinner etiquette before you go.

 

If Only I’d known…

  • Remove your shoes when you enter the host’s home or the restaurant, if you see that everyone else has done the same.
  • Avoid stepping directly on threshold of your host’s home, instead, step over the threshold.
  • To attract a waiter’s attention, wave quietly your palm down or say “ Nong” ( brother or sister). Never snap your fingers or raise your voice.
  • The proper way to eat Thai food is with the spoon in your right hand and fork in your left. Use the fork to rake the food onto your spoon; the fork never goes to your mouth; chopsticks are used only for noodle dishes and treats as spring rolls.

 

thai style healthy dining

Only the spoon goes to your mouth and should be kept by the right hand, the fork in the left hand is only for raking the food on the spoon. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

  • Some food may be eaten with your fingers. Make sure you always use your right hand, though, and never lick your fingers after eating.
  • Seating is often arranged by social hierarchy, so it is best to wait for your host to introduce you and tell you where to seat.
  • Monks should be allowed to eat first at ceremonies and gatherings.

Gift Giving Etiquette

Gift giving in Thailand is often informal. Except at weddings or other important events, it is not necessarily expected. However, preparing a simple, neatly – wrapped gift is certainly a worthwhile gesture of friendship and appreciation. If you are going to give a gift to a Thai friend or host, there are a few important things to know:

 

If Only I’d known…

  • Don’t give a gift wrapped in black, blue or green. These are the colours used at funerals, and are associated with mourning. Red is an auspicious colour for gifts among Chinese Thais.
  • It is not common for Thais to open a gift in front of the giver.
  • Fruits, flowers, candy or chocolates are always safe choices, You may also give books, liquors, or stationary.
  • Use your best judgment about what your host would find appropriate or useful.
  • If you are invited to someone’s home, bringing a gift is not mandatory. However, a small token of gratitude is always appreciated.

 

Business Etiquette

Business culture in Thailand is formal, and very hierarchical. Business relationships form slowly, and it may take a few meetings to build up the trust needed to complete a business transaction. Business decisions are slow because they pass through many levels before being decided upon; planing is short-term.

The culture of respect, politeness, and harmony means that you will often have to read between the lines and pay close attention to non-verbal communication to know what is really being said. Top management is often among a family’s members. Whom you  do know is important, powerful connections are respected.

If Only I’d Known…

  • Try to make appointments at least, a month in advance. Punctuality is especially important in business meetings, so arrive a few minutes early to any appointment or meeting.
  • Men should wear dark coloured suits. For women, wear conservative suits, blouses ( avoid sleeveless shirts) or business dresses are appropriate.
  • Business cards are an important part of business etiquette. If you are given a card, accept it with your right hand, look at it for a few seconds, and put it neatly into your wallet.
  • If you are handing out your business card, offer it to the person with the highest social status first.Remember to do it with your right hand.
  • Always show respect, humility and good humour, and avoid any displays of negative emotions. Direct frankness is not appreciated. Be subtle in giving a negative reply.

 

 

Note:

As we have said, the content of this page is the result of our research plus some comments of our own. We gathered and  just put together interesting information that we thought it would be of help, which we had  found while reading the books listed below  and visiting the sites also included in the list. So, you could find all this information , and more, reading:

A Golden Souvenir of The Culture, Tradition, and Beliefs of Thailand,” Herve Blandin , Jerry Alexander

Websites:

We just hope that you had enjoyed reading  this page, and that we had been of help. If you have some comment, please, lets know. In this way, we could keep linking Pattaya together.

 

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