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Thailand – Etiquette and Culture

Thailand – a country of hospitality and friendliness. This country is also a melting pot filled with various cultural beliefs and traditions that are different from that of the Western world’s. As a tourist, you’re not always expected to adhere to every single cultural etiquette – but you’re expected to know and respect them. Knowing the basics in Thai etiquette, what is not accepted and what are public taboos can help you a lot in your visit to Thailand. Here are some things to remember about etiquette in Thailand especially when dealing with locals.

Important Things to Know About Thai Etiquette

The concept of face, like in any other Asian culture, is a huge deal in Thailand. Expressing negative emotions in public, public confrontations, losing your temper, and shaming an individual in front of many people are all considered a no in Thai culture. Avoid anything that could make you or the locals lose face.

Thais have high regard with hierarchy. Great respect is given to elders and those who have higher status.

Touching someone’s hand when you greet them is not a common gesture in Thailand. The typical greeting in the country is called the ‘Wai’ – a gesture where you press palms together and slightly bow your head. People who are of higher status often do not return a wai.

Lying – even if it involves white lies – is considered rude in Thailand. If locals are being too honest with you, don’t get offended – just understand that honesty is a big deal in Thai culture.

As a form of national respect, the national anthem is often played every 8:00 and 18:00 hours – make sure to stop and stand to pay respect.

Do’s

When entering someone’s home, make sure to take off your shoes. Same goes when entering some shops and temples.

Wearing modest and clean clothing is a must in Thailand. Opt for conservative clothing.

In Thailand, people address others with their first name. The title ‘Khun’ can be added before their name. This title can be used to address men and women, regardless of marital status. Reserve the last names for formal events.

Show respect to the royal family by not saying negative things about the king.

Don’ts

In Thailand, the feet are the lowest, dirtiest part of the body and they have serious etiquette surrounding the feet. Do not show someone the bottoms of your feet, or allow the feet to be higher than the head of another. Don’t point at anyone using your feet.

Don’t touch a monk – especially if you’re a woman. Monks have a strict rule regarding dealing – and touching – the opposite sex.

Do not touch someone’s head.

Avoid showing public displays of affection – it’s considered rude and inappropriate.

Do not wear immodest, revealing clothing. This includes low cut tops, short shorts, and sleeveless shirts.

Temple Etiquette

When visiting temples, dress appropriately. Avoid wearing anything that reveals the legs and the shoulders. Men are expected to eschew shorts and sleeveless shirts and opt for conservative clothing.

A temple is a revered place of worship. Avoid noise.

When you see a threshold, step over it and not on it.

When you sit, make sure your feet are pointed away from the Buddha statues.

Generally, it’s rude to point to temples. If you need to do so, do it with the palm facing upward.

When you’re near a Buddha statue, refrain from turning your back. Walk a few steps away before doing so.

Dining Etiquette

Some restaurants will require patrons to remove their shoes.

If you find a threshold in someone’s home, step over it, not on it.

Learn to use spoon and fork – Thais use them more than chopsticks.

Some Thai dishes can be eaten with your hands – just make sure to use the right hand always. Never lick your fingers after eating.

An empty plate means you are still hungry. Leave a few bites to let your host know you’re already full.

When eating inside a Thai home, wait for the head of the family to acknowledge you and assign you where to sit.

Dealing with Thai people and adhering to their culture won’t be difficult if you keep these rules in mind. Pay respect to the people and culture and it’ll reward you in more ways than one.

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