Discovering Thailand: Important Things You Should Know About Thai Culture
If you are travelling to Thailand there are lots of different things you will notice. The way people greet each other, the way they show respect, how they apologize and how they say goodbye. You will see the many idiosyncrasies specific to Thailand, large and small.
There are a number of important things to learn about Thailand. Here we will cover some of the most important ones including Family, Status, Respect, Patriotism and Religion to name just a few. Thailand is truly a fascinating place to visit, like an online casino, and to learn and discover new ways of relating to each other and the world.
The family, and particularly the extended family is extremely important in Thailand, much more so than in the West. You may be surprised to learn that those people who you thought were brothers and sisters are actually cousins. Therefore, it may seem like the nuclear family is particularly large. There is no word in the Thai language for cousin and therefore everyone is referred to as brother or sister.
Most extended families live in close proximity to each other and remain very close to their place of origin even though they may move away to look for work. The extended family is very involved in the raising of children. They may be looked after by grandparents or aunts and uncles if the parents need to search out work further away from the village.
This is the role of the extended family. Members are expected to look after each other, also the younger members are expected to take care of their elders be it financially or by doing a variety of household chores.
Status plays an important role in Thai society. It may not at first be apparent but it is considered very important. Family connections, a person’s education, his or her job type, age and income levels are all very important factors in determining a person’s status in Thai culture. In some cultures status is fixed but in Thai culture a person’s status can change, move up or down, in accordance with his changing situation and circumstances.
For instance, there are different versions of the gesture called the Wai, (a gesture of greeting) depending on the person’s status. In Thai culture, there are specific rules, depending on status, as to who should make the first greeting in a social setting. It is also accepted behavior in Thailand that the highest earner pays the bill.
In Thai culture there are word that will indicate a person’s age. For instance, when talking to each other they may use the word pee before an older person’s name which is a way of showing respect. The word nong will be used for a younger person. However, it can be quite complicated as these words can alter by virtue of a person’s status, be it because of their profession or marital situation. These rules are very embedded within Thai culture and will probably be missed by the visitor or outsider.
Respect, Shame and Loss of Face are important issues in Thai culture. Probably more important than they are in the West. Language and the Wai are just two ways of showing respect in Thai society. It is very important to bring a small gift when visiting someone’s home and it is considered disrespectful to arrive without one.
On arrival at someone’s home it is important to remove one’s shoes before entering. This is showing your host respect. Embarrassing someone in public and causing them to Lose Face is considered very disrespectful.
The loss of face has a high value in Thai society. The consequences of which can be quite extreme, even leading to violence. In some rural areas, loss of face or other perceived hurts can be dealt with and punishment meted out by individuals and families outside of the law.
Patriotism is a very big deal in Thailand. Thai people are hugely proud of their country. They are aware that they are the only nation in the area of Southeast Asia, to have never been colonized. You can hear the national anthem played twice a day and it is expected that Thais hearing it will stop and stand still to listen and pay their respect.
You can see the national flag flying in many places. It is raised together with the national anthem playing every morning. Visiting the cinema the King’s anthem is also played before the start of movies. Thai culture is one in which religion and the monarchy of Thailand are held in high esteem.
The Religion in Thailand is quite unique. The religion practiced is Buddhism. However, it has been inbued with many outside influences. Strains of Hinduism and some Chinese beliefs have also influenced many of the local beliefs and also animist beliefs which have had a big influence and have shaped Thai Buddhism.
These influences can be seen whilst walking about. The wearing of amulets and carrying talismans is quite prevalent even though Buddhist practice actually prohibits attachment to material objects. There are also many spirit shrines located all over the place as many Thais believe in ghosts and spirits which stem from pre-Buddhist beliefs.
Superstitions are widespread in Thai culture. The belief in ghosts and spirits is connected to this. It is common practice for people to search out a Monk or even a fortune teller before making big decisions in their life.
There are many traditions surrounding babies and children that have been initiated with the desire to ward off the evil spirit. For instance, not talking about or being too complimentary about a baby or child in the hope that they would be less attractive to the spirits. Also not cutting children’s hair when sick and there are many more.
Monks can be seen everywhere in Thailand, not just inside temples but on the street and on buses. They are very respected and revered members of Thai society. Monks are given special status on buses for instance where there are seats designated for them.
There are also special rules concerning females and their behavior around Monks. Females are expected to remain distant from Monks and no touching is allowed. Crossing the line and behaving inappropriately around Monks will be met with disapproval from those people around you.
This leads onto the last, but important issue of Body Awareness. In Thai culture different parts of the body have different levels of importance. The head, for instance, is considered the most spiritual part of the body. Therefore, playing or tussling with the hair of a child would be frowned upon.
Showing affection, such as kissing and hugging in public is not acceptable and will be looked upon with disapproval. It is better to walk around people rather than between and it is considered polite to lower one’s head when passing someone one knows who has a higher social status.
The feet are considered the lowest part of the body, symbolically. It would be considered rude to touch someone with your foot, to point with your foot or to sit with your feet up so that the soles of the feet are pointing outwards. And of course there are many instances where removing your shoes is expected.
Visiting Thailand will be a fascinating experience. There is much to see and to discover. Thai people are generally very accepting of visitors and will overlook many of their cultural mistakes. The main thing to remember is to show respect for the monarchy and the religion.