The Thai people are known for their warmth and hospitality, and this has become Thailand’s cultural icon. However, Thai culture is very different from the West and with any inter-cultural relationships, there is a need for common mutual respect, courtesy, and good manners. Therefore, there are some distinct aspects that are worthy of special mention.
Woven deeply into Thailand’s culture is high reverence and respect for Their Majesties the King and Queen of Thailand and the Royal Family. One important example is to stand at attention whenever the national or royal anthem is played at any public gathering including in a cinema.
The main religion of the Thai people is Buddhism. However, there are also other faiths accepted and practiced in Thailand. Therefore, tourists should have respect for places and objects of worship of the various religions, and observe peace and order during religious assemblies or ceremonies. Also dress neatly - shorts, mini-skirts and sleeveless T-shirts, and tops, and sundresses are not considered appropriate. While it is alright to wear shoes and sandals around the compound of a temple, these must be removed when entering the sanctuary or chapel. Also all Buddha images are considered as sacred; hence, show respect and reverence in public places where these images are present and especially when taking photographs of them.
Traditionally, Thai people do not shake hands. They greet each other by putting their palms together in a prayer-like gesture called a ‘wai’. A younger person would ‘wai’ an older person first and the latter will respond. It is also good to bear in mind that the ‘wai’ symbolizes the paying of respect, and it follows that where one is meeting more senior people, regardless of their age, one would start the ‘wai’ first. It is also perfectly acceptable to address your Thai host, guest or associate by his/her first name instead of his/her family name. The salutation in a Thai greeting is Khun and is not gender specific. Some traditional Thai meals are served with guests sitting on the floor. While sitting on the floor, do not point your foot toward another person but keep your feet nicely tucked away as you sit. In the Thai culture, the foot represents the lowest part of the human anatomy and using it to point to someone is interpreted as a rude gesture. Whilst the foot is considered the lowest part of the human anatomy in Thai culture, the head is considered the most revered. Thus, it is considered impolite to touch someone’s head, even if the gesture is considered friendly in some cultures. Further to this, when in a group, young people will make an effort to lower their heads when passing by the more elderly ones. This is to avoid the implications that the younger ones are ‘looking down’ on the more elderly ones. It may be an effort, but it is the attitude that counts.
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