Thai Cultures (Do’s & Dont’s)

Culture, Customs & Etiquette

Its always useful to understand different cultures of the place where you are going to live or visit. I have researched from my own experiences and can share Thai cultures, customs, manners, etiquette, values and understanding Thai people. It is imperative that you understand it for business, visiting, living, and hosting Thai colleagues or clients.

A guideline but not meaning to stereotype all the Thai people you come into contact with.

The Wai

  • The simple way is the most common form of greeting, instead of the western handshake
  • Raising your hands, palms joined with your fingers pointing upwards, almost like as if in prayer, touching the body somewhere between chest and forehead
  • The way can be made while standing, sitting and walking
  • To wai is a form of respect as well as a greeting. Respect and courtesy are demonstrated depending on the height you wai
  • A person who is younger in age or status is the first one to wai
  • A senior person returns your wai, generally with hands raised to the chest level
  • If a younger person is standing and wants to wai the senior person who is sitting, the younger person must stoop or bow the head
  • If there is a great social gap between 2 people a wai will not be returned

Hierarchy 

  • Thai people take hierarchical relationship serious and with lots of respect
  • There is also a hierarchy for the body, head being the highest and the feet being the lowest (never use your feet to point it is very rude in Thailand and highly offensive)
  • Social relationships are defined as one person being superior to another
  • Parents are superior to children, teachers to their students and bosses to subordinates, this will take some getting used to but will be fully understood over time
  • When Thais meet you for the first time they will try to access to see which hierarchy to place you in, basically to see how to treat you
  • It can be done by asking which could be looked at very personal questions in other cultures
  • Status in Thailand is often determined by education, job, age, family name, and social connections.

Thai Buddhism

  • Buddhists believe that life does not begin with birth and end with death. The belief is that every person has several lives based upon life that has not yet lived and learned and acts committed in previous lives
  • Buddhist statues and temples should be treated with the highest form of respect
  • Buddhists believe that selfishness and craving result in suffering and compassion and love bring happiness and well being
  • Dont step on a threshold especially in a buddhist temple

Family values

  • Family life in Thailand is generally more close knit than in western countries
  • The family is the cornerstone of Thai society
  • Children are taught to honour and respect elders and parents
  • Thai family is a form of hierarchy also with parents being at the top

Thai Demeanour

  • Thai people place great emphasis and value on outward forms of courtesy such as being polite, respect, and self-control in order to maintain a harmonious relationship. 
  • Most of these rules of etiquette are by products of Buddhist religion
  • Thailand is a non- confrontational society
  • It is not advisable to be angry with someone as it might attract the wrath of spirits
  • Loss of face is a disgrace for a Thai so they will try to avoid any confirmation and look to compromise
  • If 2 parties have a disagreement, one will need to have an outlet to retreat without losing face

Meeting etiquettes

  • Thai people address each other by first name, rather than surname, the word Khun which means Mr, Mrs, and Ms in front of the name as an honourary term
  • The wai as mentioned above is a traditional form of meeting, as a foreigner it may seem a little strange but the more you do it is becomes second nature
  • Wait for your host and hostess to introduce you to other guests, this will let everyone understand your status relative to their own

Dining Etiquette

Dining at a Thai persons house

  • Always try to be on time
  • Do not forget to remove your shoes when entering a Thai persons home, slippers may be provided in some homes but bare foot is normally accepted and Thais normally walk barefoot in their own home
  • Always ensure to ask another guest the correct dress code for the occasion
  • Always compliment the host on the food, even if you are not to fond of a dish, it is often classed as rude and disrespectful to show your emotions

Table manners

  • Fork and spoon are the main utensils, however noodles may be eaten with chopsticks, a knife is never used for Thai food
  • Most of the meals are served as buffet style 
  • You may begin to eat as soon as your served
  • Do not lick your fingers
  • Wait to be asked before taking seconds
  • Never take the last bite from the serving bowl
  • Leave a little food on your plate as an empty plate will show that you are not full and still hungry  
  • Never leave rice on your plate as it is considered wasteful
  • Relax and enjoy the meal asking questions regarding the food, it shows great interest in what your eating and also what your host or hostess has prepared for you

Gift Giving

  • A gift is not expected when you visit a Thai persons home although it will be greatly appreciated
  • A good choice of gifts would be flowers, chocolates or fruit
  • Do not give marigolds or carnations as they are normally associate with funerals
  • Do not wrap gifts in free, black or blue as these colours are associated with funerals also
  • Gold and yellow are great colours to wrap gifts as they are royal colours
  • If you have a gift for a Thai Chinese person then only use red wrapping paper
  • Gifts will not be opened when received
  • A wedding gift normally money is given

Business etiquette 

  • Thai people prefer to do business with people they respect
  • Business relationships take time to develop and it may take several meeting to gain the trust and relationship
  • Communication is formal and non verbal communication is more important than verbal communication
  • It is very difficult for Thais to say no, so you will always hear a yes even if they mean no
  • Body language and facial expressions are more believed than your word

Business Meeting etiquette

  • All appointment are necessary and should be well planned ahead, cold calling is not advisable
  • Always confirm who will be attending the meeting
  • Ensure that you let them know the credentials of who is coming so the Thais will know the status of who is attending
  • Arrive on time or early as it will show a great deal of respect
  • Always remember to wai on greeting people at the meeting
  • Thai companies always like for you to send an agenda and material about your company, ensure sufficient time for the materiel to be received and read
  • Make sure that the material is written in both English and Thai
  • Please be patient

Business cards

  • Give your business card after the initial greeting, it should always be given to the most senior person and make sure that your card is also translated into Thai
  • Use your right hand when giving out your business card
  • Look at the card for a few seconds before placing it down on the table in front. Try to make a comment about the card, either status or address, its simply to acknowledge