A to Z of Thai Customs
short A-Z of Thai customs and Thai social habitsof some of the important points you should bear in mind. This list
isn't 100%, but if you follow these guidelines at least you won't
unintentionally upset anyone.
between the sexes should not be displayed in public. Nowadays holding hands is
O.K. but kissing should be avoided.
Avoid things, people and situations you don’t like rather than complain and
moan about them or try to change them.
Thai waiters and servants with the hand, palm downwards, fingers straight and waving
rapidly. Don’t clap, snap fingers or hiss.
Boasting is disliked, don’t compare your country and people favorably with
Thailand and the Thais. Or if you do make sure you mention something you like
more about Thailand than your home country as well.
Buddha images should be kept in a high place and treated with great respect. It
is against the law to take or send them out of the country except under very
special circumstances and with the correct documentation.
are normally open to everybody; at family ceremonies money is often given,
contained in an envelope, to the host and is placed in the tray provided. Do not
wear bright colors to a Thai funeral.
Criticism: Avoid it; if absolutely unavoidable, balance with praise and be very
indirect and vague.
is admired as maturity, if you must do naughty things, do them in private or
well away from where fellow teachers and your students live and hang out.
Dress the same as your status. Thais are shocked to see their Thai teachers wearing
shorts. Thai Women do not wear short shorts or revealing clothing.
habits are flexible. Most Thai people eat with a spoon and use a fork to load it.
Salt is replaced by the liquid 'nam pla' (fish sauce). During ceremonies always
eat after the monks. Inviting someone to eat is an everyday greeting, the normal
reply is ‘eaten already’. It's the Thai equivalent to 'How are you ?' - '
I'm fine '.
must be kept to yourself. Not on the desk. Certainly not pointing at anybody. Do
not step over anybody or anybody’s food.
Flatter whenever possible, Thais loves it.
Fun - This is the essential ingredient of anything worth doing. If it's not fun
then why do it ?
is the sign of an important person in Thailand; don’t be mean. If you go away for the
weekend be sure to bring back inexpensive gifts for your friends and fellow
Gifts are to be opened in private.
and heads should not be touched. If you do so by accident, excuse yourself.
are less frequent and more meaningful than in the west. The social inferior is
Invitations are often less specific than in the west. If attendance and
punctuality are important, use a card. If you specifically invite somebody to
your house, they will expect to be given a meal there.
If done by a man, don’t be surprised if he refuses to wash a woman’s
Legs should not be crossed whether sitting on floor or chair in the presence of
Thai monks. For men kneel and sit directly on top of your calves. For women sit in a
'mermaid-style' pose, bum on the floor & legs bent to the side of your body,
not directly underneath.
Lower the body a little when passing in front of, or between people.
Monks are the most important people in Thailand and must be treated with respect at
Touching of a Thai monk or his robes by a woman is strictly taboo. On a bus women are
not permitted to sit next to a monk.
Use a person’s first name, not the family name. Adults should be addressed as
Khun, for both male and female, unless a title is used.
Dress appropriately; do not wear black unless at funeral.
Pass objects with the right hand, touch left hand to right forearm if extra
respect is required.
Women never pass directly to monks.
Paying is done after eating/drinking, not before; the invitor pays; if no clear
invitation, the superior usually pays. ‘Going Dutch’ is very rare.
Pointing with fingers is acceptable for objects and animals but not for people.
Use your entire hand not one finger to indicate which person you want to point
: take it easy, especially at the beginning of your stay.
Rice is the lifeblood of Thailand; don’t throw it away in front of Thais.
Royalty must be treated with the greatest respect. Every building has a picture
of the King and Queen hanging on the wall somewhere. Thais really do love their
King. You will hear the National Anthem played on the TV and radio at 8 a.m. and
6 p.m. every day, as well as in the cinemas before movies. Stand up and stand
still whenever you hear it in public. (Visit Lumpini Park just before 6 p.m.,
you will see hundreds of joggers, but on the stroke of 6 p.m. everyone will stop
as though frozen in time and listen to the anthem. The second it's over
everyone's off and running again.)
come off at the door of the main temple building and at all homes. They usually
come off in school classrooms too.
Sit in the place you are directed to. Superior in front, inferiors at the back.
As a foreigner you will usually have to sit at the front of any ceremonies you
attend - look on this as an honour.
Speak gently, do not raise the voice. Shouting will get you nowhere and people
will lose respect for you.
Smile and people will like you. A smile can be used to excuse small
inconveniences, to thank for small services and to return the wai of children
and maids. ( Yes, you can afford to have a maid here. To get someone to clean
your room & wash your clothes for you 3 times a week will cost around 1,000
must be kept. As with shouting, people will lose respect for you if you display
signs of anger. So don't get visibly angry, keep it inside until you get home.
Thank you, like ‘ please’, is expressed verbally much less frequently in
Thai; a smile is often enough.
Throwing any object is bad manners.
Titles are always used. For example all teachers use 'Ajarn ' + their name. When
referring to other teachers use this formula not just their name.
homes without specific invitation is normal; gifts of fruit, cakes, flowers,
etc. are appreciated but not necessary. Shoes are taken off unless requested to
keep them on. Casual visitors should always be invited to drink and, if
mealtime, to eat.
monks, old people and your social superiors. Do not wai servants, laborers and
children. There are several different types of wai used by Thais, the type of
wai depends on the social standing of the other person. The lower the head and
the higher up the face the hands are held indicates the amount of respect shown.
The inferior initiates the wai.
Walk slightly behind monks and old people, not level with them.