Thai Culture

Table of Contents

Thai Culture

If you’ve come to Thailand from a Western country, then you’re going to notice that the culture is entirely different from back home. You must try to understand Thai culture and be sensitive to it, as this will help you integrate much more quickly. We’ve seen too many expats who think they know better, and they tend to have a hard time living here. They don’t get that they should try to adapt to the new culture they have found themselves in, and want to behave as they did back home. This desire isn’t acceptable. You are a guest in this country, so try your best to fit in.

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, and the king is the head of state. Everyone in Thailand reveres King Bhumibol, and you should know that it’s against the law to say anything derogatory about either him or the rest of the royal family. Each day at 8 am and 6 pm, they play the national anthem in many public places, including the BTS system. When you hear the national anthem, you should stand at attention with your hands by your side. Follow along with what all the Thai people do. It’s not acceptable to be doing anything else while the national anthem is played. It is also played at cinemas before the films start, and you should also stand up like everyone else will be doing. Stay seated, and you could find yourself in serious trouble, as Thai people will not take kindly to your actions.

It would help if you also were careful with money. An image of the king’s head is on all Thai coins and notes, so treat them with care. It’s not acceptable to scrunch up a note, throw it, or step on it. To do so would be like stepping on the king. If you drop a note or coin and it blows or rolls away from you, don’t use your feet to stop it, but pick it up with your hand.

The best advice on politics is to stay out of it, especially if you’ve been drinking. This advice is true even in your home country. Political debates can get extremely heated, so you’re best avoiding any debate.

As mentioned above, the concept of face is crucial at all levels of Thai society. It’s similar to embarrassment and respect in Western culture, but they take it much more seriously. Don’t shout at anyone in public, as this will cause significant loss of face for both you and the person you’re shouting out. Thai people like harmony, and would instead smile and let something go rather than make an issue out of it. Group harmony is much more critical than what the individual thinks or feels. This desire for harmony is what makes Thai society and the people so easy going. Even if something makes you angry, you need to deal with the situation very calmly. The best thing to do is to smile and forget about it. You will gain face by doing this, as Thai people will see that you understand their culture, and are making an effort to fit in.

Sometimes someone from a group of people will invite you to join them for a drink or something to eat. In these situations, it is always best to say yes, as saying no will amount to a significant loss of face to the person that asked you. They will have gone out of their way to invite you to join them, and their friends and family will be watching. If you say no, it’s like snubbing them. The only time you should say no is if you sense any danger. In this case, you should thank the person profusely and say you would love to join them but have a prior engagement.

Many small towns in Thailand still have very conservative attitudes, and you won’t see couples holding hands or kissing in public. If you have a girlfriend and she invites you to visit her hometown, don’t be upset if she doesn’t hold your hand. Also, don’t insist that she does, otherwise people may assume that she’s a prostitute. Life is different in big cities like Bangkok and Pattaya, but can be utterly different in smaller places. It would be best if you fit in, so you’ll have to accept the differences.

You should never touch a monk, especially if you’re a woman. You should also never point your feet towards a monk, the royal family, or any Buddha image. It would be best if you didn’t point your feet at anyone, as it’s considered extremely rude. The people of Thailand think the feet to be the dirtiest part of the body, so it’s not acceptable to point them at anyone. It would help if you were particularly careful when sitting in a temple or on the floor with other people. Always sit with your feet pointing behind you so that they aren’t pointing directly at anyone else. You also shouldn’t step over someone if they are seated, and you are walking past. Always walk around them.

The head a sacred part of the body in Thai culture, so don’t pat anyone on the head.

Buddha images are sacred, so don’t abuse them in any way. Please don’t sit on them, don’t take amusing photos of them, and don’t get Buddha tattoos. Recently, a man was deported from Sri Lanka for having a Buddha tattoo.

Sometimes Thai people will stare at you, especially in smaller towns and villages. They don’t mean any harm by this. They are just showing interest in you, and most likely haven’t seen many white people. People staring rarely happens in big cities, though.

Always remove your shoes before entering someone’s home. Also, take your shoes off when entering any business if you see lots of shoes outside the door.

It would help if you got a Thai friend to teach you how to wai. The wai is a traditional Thai greeting that’s used mostly in formal settings. It’s good manners to wai older people, especially in the northeast of Thailand. If you get to meet your girlfriend’s family, you should make sure you wai her parents when you first meet them.

Thais eat with a spoon and fork, not with a knife and fork. This method of eating can take some getting used to, but it will soon become second nature. We took a flight out of Thailand about six months ago, and when we were served food on the plane, we received a knife and fork. For a few seconds, we weren’t sure what to do, because we had got so used to eating with a spoon and fork, that using a knife didn’t seem right. Thai cooks cut the food up before cooking, so there isn’t usually anything that needs to cut by you. If you go for something like a steak, you’ll be given a knife and fork to eat with. Follow what the Thai people around you are doing.

Thai people always have nicknames, mostly of one syllable, but sometimes two. They use these nicknames all the time, except on very formal occasions. It’s quite normal to have worked with someone for a few years and not even know their full name. Friends, family, and co-workers will all use their nicknames with each other. They are usually names such as Nok (bird), Lek (small), or something similar. It is quite likely you may receive a nickname, as well.