Survival Guide: 6 things you need to know about Thai culture

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Every country has its own culture and a way of doing things. Thailand is no different. Thais are typically friendly, polite and down to earth. They greet each other respectfully and are quick to apologise for even the smallest of things. If you’ve been to Thailand for any amount of time, then you would have heard some basic guidelines for Thai etiquette like always wai to the elderly, don’t put your feet up on a table and don’t get a Buddha tattoo. But there are oh-so-many more. So here are 6 other Thai culture points you need to know.

Superstitions abound
Buying a home? Getting married? Something is wrong with your life? It all comes down to the things we can’t see. This is where either a monk or a fortune teller comes into play. They have all the answers, or they have the best advice. When is the best time to get married? Should our house face the north or the south? What phone numbers should be avoided? (Probable influences of Chinese culture.) Yes, you heard that right. It doesn’t stop there, though. Thais will usually ask for advice on what to name their newborn child. For example, “Our daughter is expected on [enter date]. What should we name her?”

Respect monks
Monks are highly respected here in Thailand, and making fun of them is a huge mistake. If you’re on public transportation, there is a priority seat just for a monk. If the seats are all taken, be sure to be the first to give him a seat. Ladies, don’t say that we haven’t warned you, but try not to interact with monks. Want to make merits in the morning? Sure, but let your significant other directly pass something to him.

Status and respect
This is our secret. Don’t tell Thais that we told you this, but status is very important to them . You might have heard of the following stereotype: Asian parents want their children to go to a prestigious university, then get a high-paying job. There is a truth to that here in Thailand. “What do you do for a living?” is a common question at every family gathering or reunion of some sort. If you have a good job, you’re all set for life. On the topic of gathering, when it’s time to pay for the bill, one of two things will happen. Normally, the oldest will pay, or sometimes the highest earner will step in. You may have come across a group of diners arguing about who should pay. It’s all about status. But respect is earned, not given, right? Nope. If you’re older, that means whoever is younger must respect you as an elder.

Family first
Family first before anything else. This goes as far as the extended family and you’ll be surprised at how big some Thai families are. Cousins are considered brothers and sisters, so don’t be shocked when a local tells you this. It’s common for most Thai family members to live close to one another. When the parents are out for work, children are left at home with other family members like the grandparents. When the younger generation gets older, they’re expected to help the elderly either financially or by helping them around the house.

Give and save ‘face’
If you’re visiting cities like Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Phuket, most Thais are able to speak some English. But don’t expect them to be direct and completely honest with you. Mostly, they prefer to be indirect because they want to “save face,” or not hurt the feelings of others. Keep this in mind when communicating with Thai people and try not to be too direct with them. On that note, Thais hate confrontation, especially when you raise your voice. Raising your voice at someone won’t solve the problem. People will look at you for the wrong reasons. If a problem occurs, which we sincerely hope doesn’t happen, remain calm and apologise, then stand your ground and try not to cause any more trouble.

No touching
In Thailand, keep your hands to yourself. Touching someone’s skin is considered intimate and head touching is especially sacred. As a rule of thumb, don’t touch someone’s head, unless they’re your significant other or children. If you see someone doing this, it’s likely that they’re quite close. So it’s not a good idea to touch someone’s head without permission, or even pass something over their head. In fact, it’s considered very disrespectful in Thailand, especially if it involves the elderly. It may seem normal to foreigners, but not to Thais.

What’s your take?
To conclude, Thais are often laid back and friendly, especially toward foreigners and tourists. But that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to do the things we mentioned above. You might be forgiven because you’re a foreigner, but try to save face and not make yourself look bad. So what’s your take? Are there any interesting or unusual Thai culture points that didn’t make the list? Which one is your favourite? Please let us know in the ThaigerTalk comments section down below!

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