Sunday 23 March 2014

Thai Culture - the important do's and don'ts of visiting and living in Thailand

Exactly what do local Thais see once they help you as an overseas tourist or visitor ?

They say information is power - so knowing this gives a good beginning point for comprehending the most common methods for having good relations with Thai people that you may meet on your travels in the so called Land of Smiles.

It is said that Thais like to categorize people into 1 of 3 'circles' of influence with the closer they are to the person, the greater demands that will be made of that person and the more they will give back. The 3 circles are broadly:
  • Close relations - family people, buddies, co-workers - anybody that you simply have dealings with on the personal and everyday basis.
  • Close environs - neighbors, clients inside a shop, business partners. These could all pose some risk so you will need  to act nicely and friendly towards them. Most importantly smile a great deal when you meet them and make them feel relaxed and happy in your company.
  •  'Unknown folk' who they haven't met before who they may be considered to unreliable until they know them better. Thailand is a hard , sometimes unforgiving developing country where every Baht is fought over so they are culturally right to be wary of what they don't know.
Of course this analysis of Thai behavior is excessively simplified but still holds lots of truth. And keeping these points in mind can help you realize why things sometimes happen in a different way in Thailand than they might in your own country.

Did the friendly taxi driver overcharge? You might believe that this will make him a poor person - "a cheat". But no - not really , he's just proficient at his job with regards to earning his money and thus his living. Did the smiling shop proprietor "swindle you with that Buddha figurine? Depends on how you look at it - may be worth whatever he is able to get the customer to pay ...which if they see you as a foreigner may be a lot ! It's your job to bargain hard and be wary - not his !

When hailing taxis, you should hold your hands horizontal, with fingers facing palm down. Holding your hands with fingers up is recognized as rude. Exactly the same is true when beckoning servers, or anybody else, do this with your palm lower and fingers straight by having an up and lower movement. Never clap, snap your fingers, or whistle. To some Thai this is one way you demand the interest of the dog, not really a human.

When going to temples, dress cautiously (ideally in white clothing ) - women particularly should put on lengthy skirts or pants, get their shoulders covered, and not wear sandals.  Many temples have as a condition that photography isn't permitted.  Even when there's no sign, be sincere and think about whether it's appropriate to be taking  too many photos.  Also speak softly much more whilst visiting a temple. Even much more if monks can be found worshiping!

Always remove your footwear and hat when entering temples, and don't sit together with your feet facing the Buddha statue or image - sit either mix-legged, or together with your feet hidden behind you.  In Thai culture the feet are seen as the basest, filthiest area of the body, and also the mind and the brain is the greatest.  Hence don't indicate things together with your feet, hold doorways open together with your feet, point your feet towards Buddha images, point at or touch peoples' heads, or under any circumstance, touch monks triply so if you are a woman.

The King and also the Royal family are EXTREMELY highly regarded as in Thai society, as evidenced through the pictures and shows of His Majesty and the Royal family everywhere.  Don't say or act disrespectful in anyway for the King or any member the Royal family and this respect applies to the currency bearing his images don't stamp on it or throw it around carelessly.

Possibly probably the most fundamental of Thai etiquette, that's frequently overlooked by budget vacationers is individual hygiene. Thai individuals are fastidious and meticulous within their personal hygiene practices. As Thailand is  tropical hot and often wet tropical country also it appears that lots of synthetic materials at home often promote odor building bacteria taking a shower frequently is important and not simply every few days! So there is really no reason wearing to be wearing yesterdays T-shirt. So show respect and consideration, as no Thai will dare mention your insufficient hygiene to you it's just not their way.

Tossing things before another person is recognized as very rude.  One once put some paper bills in a desk-- to find the best of reasons - to prevent them being amazed through the draft in the open door as the clerk finished his work. He immediately frowned and stated: "Don't throw things, mister, you're a gentleman ...".

Don't expect Thais to stick to the guidelines of your culture. - Thais fight to decline a request. Rather than simply saying "no", they will explain "Yes, but ...". "Have you got mustard?", "Yes, but ketchup" comes the waiter's answer, having a somewhat insecure smile. What this means is, "No mister, we don't have mustard, but we all do have tomato ketchup". Don't take that it is a manifestation of foolishness or mess. It is only a way of being polite.  In general, Thais consider saying "no" to some request a really uncomfortable factor to complete and therefore avoid doing this.

For similar reasons, Thais will ‘lie’ about things e.g. if requested direction to some place and they don't know. They'll give false directions to prevent showing up ignorant. If requested if your temple is open or closed, they're not going to say it normally won't know ... rather they'll lie! Thus, I discovered I possibly could rarely believe the things they stated! Again, Thais dislike showing the absence of understanding, so could give you a solution-- any answer-- to prevent being seen as ignorant.

The Royal Thai Police (broadly viewed as corrupt by Western standards) if attending an incident involving a foreigner may be expected to cover the costs of their presence. Speak it softly but paying Thai police a small 'fee' may help top expedite any problem you may have.

Finally enough words for the time being much better to watch this wonderfully fine young Thai lady with excellent English tell you the ins and and out of Thai culture.

Smile and the whole world smiles with you .....

And after all that if you feel you would like a Thai massage to soothe your troubled brow then why not - Thailand is the home of some of the best massage and masseurs in the world!

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