Some Culture Norms and Social Rules of Thailand, Do’s and Don’ts
(What to do and not do as a traveler, guest, volunteer or tourist in Thailand)
Every culture has their own perspective of what “good manners or cultural ways” entail. For Thais some of the acceptable cultural ways – just like in most countries – differ between economic classes, ethnic groups and sometimes regions. A few mores and norms listed below are found throughout most of Thailand. Mores (pronounced like mor-eiz) are very important and accepted ways of acting and being and are followed by most who were born in a country and are usually not questioned. Mores may also reflect the fundamental moral views of a social group. Some mores become laws, where others are just respected and help to mold, restrain or give a commonality to the general populace. Some mores are viewed as irrational to outsiders or may be unknown to most in other cultures. Norms are a set of rules that can be formal or informal. If informal they are in the form of customs, morals, and beliefs and are not written as law.
As we examine new ways and travel in different cultures it is interesting to examine the accepted norms and mores. When Mundo Exchange volunteers come to help and later work or visit the country all want to show respect for the Thais and their culture. By examining the ways of others we are able to have a better understanding of the social world of Thai people.
The different ways of Thais and their culture is what is so captivating about the culture and people. To get on the right track we have included a few of the ways to act when in Thailand. If you should have any questions feel free to contact us and you will certainly learn what we all learned the hard way at your volunteer orientation seminar on Thai culture and ways.
Wais and Greetings
In Thailand the general way to say hello is by using the word “sawatdee” followed by kah if you are female and khop if you are male. This saying is used by all though the day to say hello or good bye. If the person you are talking to is your friend or your age then this is a good greeting. If it is a person you do not know or is a monk, or an elder you should say “sawatdee” and also wai. The wai is a large part of Thai culture.
To make a wai press your palms together, (it reminds Thais of the lotus bud), and touch the tip of your fingers to your nose. There are other ways to wai for different types of people like elders, teachers, monks, the King and parents. This main variation is to bow forward slightly, and how deep the bow depends on how respected the person. More of this is taught during our cultural outings and cross-cultural orientations for interns and volunteers in Thailand. Although some Thais may shake hands it is not their custom. If you want to do as the Thais do, then wai unless the Thai reaches out to shake hands first. Unless you are in the classroom teaching them about western culture! 😉
The culture of wats is modesty. When you visit Buddhist wats or temples in Thailand try to dress in clean long pants or clothing that covers your arms and legs. If you plan to stay at a wat and learn meditation you will need very loose fitting white pants and shirts which can often be purchased, depending on your size, in Thailand. Take your shoes off when going where the Buddha images are kept. All Buddhist images are sacred and should be treated as such. Some tourists have ended up in jail for sitting and climbing on the Buddhist images. Show the same respect and ways that your own culture observes in most places of religious worship.
If you are a woman and want to give something to a monk, simply lay it on a piece of cloth, close to the monk, or give it to a man to give to the monk. Same goes for men when meeting Buddhist nuns. Also, if you are riding public transportation the back of the bus is usually reserved for the monks. Monks cannot sit by women so best to not sit down in the back row of buses.
Most Thais are open to all religions and warmly welcome visitors to the Thai Kingdom. For most Thais it is not their cultural reality to have someone touch their heads and for some Thais even their shoulders, even friends. The head is the highest point and is to be respected. The feet are the lowest part of the body so pointing your foot at someone is also a cultural no no. Crossing your legs with foot pointed out towards your new Thai friends is not respectable either. You should not point at objects with your feet or even stop an escaped rolling Thai coin with your foot. The Kings head is stamped on Thai coins!
The Royal Family
The King is deeply respected by most Thais and visitors should not speak poorly of the Thai King or Royal Family. It is Thai culture and law that mandates this cultural behavior. It is best to keep your questions for your very good Thai friends and talk in private.
Pointing at people, at Buddhist images, at Anything
Thais often use their right hand, palm up, to point at something. Using the index finger to point at someone or something is considered rude. Use this way if volunteering to teach English in a Thai school or at home with your new Thai friends.
During our cultural orientation, Mundo Exchange volunteer staff and members of our local Thai Association will help you learn more of the less talked about cultural ways of Isaan and other parts of Thailand. Just remember that Thais are very tolerant people for the most part and will help you through if you make cultural mistakes.
For questions or comments please Contact Us
Chock Dee or Good Luck!