Thai Culture and Customs
The Culture of Thailand
Have you ever felt like a child again? Ever been thrown into in culture completely alien to your own? I’m talking about my biggest eye-opener to date - working, living, becoming integrated into Thai society and learning the weird and wonderful ways of Thai Culture.
This is an introduction to culture in Thailand, Thai customs and some useful tips a westerner needs to be aware of in before visiting Thailand. You may find these surprising, interesting and somewhat strange compared to what you’re used to!
Previous to moving to Thailand I’d only had a month’s experience of any Asian country, where I had a stint traveling around Bali and Lombok, Indonesia during 2009. That taster developed into a bit of a crush on Asian culture. I often found myself day-dreaming about going back whilst de-icing my car at 6am in -10, back in good old blighty! (For those of you who don’ know the term 'blighty' – it’s a slang term for the U.K.) Anyway, eventually I succumb to my Asian travel flirt and found myself on a plane bound for Bangkok a year later.
Customs at Customs.
Upon arriving in Bangkok airport one of the first things noticed whilst speaking to people, or over hearing general conversation was ‘krap’ and ‘ka’. If you’re uniformed about Thai culture, as was I back then, you might not have a clue what I’m talking about! Basically, it’s the respective male and female versions of showing respect, politeness and honour during conversation. Showing respect is an integral part in the culture of Thailand which I believe is echoed throughout many other regions in Asia. These sayings are used all the time, whether in a formal or informal situation, younger to elder, elder to younger and so on. If your specifically interested in Thai language check out my other hub.
'Krap’ and ‘Ka’ can also have different meanings depending on the context in which they’re used. A simple ‘krap’ on its own for example can mean hello, ok or agreeing with someone. ‘Saw waa dee krap’ simply means 'hello', but in a polite way as 'krap' is added to the sentence. I found that adopting the infamous ‘krap’ in most of my communication, especially with elders and people of higher stature, seemed to go well locals, colleagues and new acquaintances alike. Even if I was mixing my limited Thai with English. Thai’s, I soon came to realise, appreciate the effort.
Thai Customs; Heads, Shoulders Knees and Toes.
OK, so forget the shoulders and knees but the head and feet are significant in Thai culture. Touching peoples head’s for example…NOT TO BE DONE HERE! The head is seen as the most sacred part of the body in Thai culture , which I believe (correct me if I’m wrong) originates from Buddhism, the majority religion in Thailand.
As a rule, I’d say, don’t touch people at all especially strangers, unless you are acquainted, already friends or they touch you first. In this case you’ll more than likely be the recipient of casual hand positioned on your inside leg, around your waist or somewhere else you’re not quite sure of! This is a fairly normal and common practice, just another part of culture in Thailand. Do not fear! It’s just an example of Thai people’s friendly nature and affection; as I unwittingly came to learn over the duration of my stay here.
Feet in Thai culture
Not the most savoury item of the body regarded by Thai people. Feet are known as the furthest part of the body away from the most sacred, the head. It is not uncommon for a Thai to come home and go straight to the bathroom and wash their feet. This is nearly a necessity after walking around grubby Bangkok in flip flops. Of course shoes, flip-flops or whatever would have been taken off and left outside of the home before entering. I also think this is standard many Asian countries, not just in Thai culture.
Some no no’s regarding feet include; moving things, raising them above the head, pointing your toes at somebody or purposely showing the soles of your feet. Don’t even think about casually putting your feet up on a chair. It’s seen as disrespectful amongst Thais and generally rude. However, being a Farang (westerner) you’ll probably get away with performing one of these sacred acts! Thai people are generally aware that you are not aware and quite understanding of the ‘Farang Ting Tong’ (silly westerner).
Culture in Thailand...No, no's!
A fine example of my cultural sensitivity failing occurred in swimming pool with friends on Koh Chang . For reason’s I don't remember the subject was about feet, and I, without remembering our Thai friend was in the swimming pool, casually pulled my own out of the water, swung them around and proudly presented them saying, ‘Look, one of mine’s bigger than the other’. I soon realised my error as look of horror came over Rungwit who was at eye level and suddenly face to face with my feet.
A feeling of dread came over me as I noticed how shocked and disgusted he was, showing a strange emotion I’d never seen before. He quickly swam backwards to get away from my bases! Not the most comfortable situation I've ever been in. Naturally I apologised sincerely and Rungwit, much to my relief, seemed OK about the whole situation. He eventually (maybe begrudgingly) laughed it off over a few Chang’s later that night, and as you can imagine I was the centre of jokes for quite some time afterwards. Needless to say I had learned the hard way. Not the first time of my cultural mishaps in Thailand!
Thanks for stopping by! If your especially interested in Thailand and you may like to take a look at these hubs.