Happy National Courtesy Month!
Thai culture is known for being one of the most courteous and friendly cultures in the world, but just like any culture, there are cultural etiquette norms that are appreciated among Thai people themselves, and for guests visiting their homes and homeland. Here are some of these customs and etiquette that you should know before visiting Thailand or your Thai friends abroad.
Remove Your Shoes
The first rule of etiquette for entering a Thai residence, temple, or palace is to remove your shoes. This is a courteous gesture made to protect the home or temple you are visiting from the dirt tracked in by your shoes. It is disrespectful not to take shoes off before entering Thai homes and temples.
You may also be expected to remove your shoes at some cafes and restaurants. This is because some smaller establishments are set up in homes. To gauge whether or not you should remove your shoes, just look and see what others in the shop or restaurant are wearing on their feet and act accordingly.
Don’t Step On Thresholds
If you are walking through a doorway, it is customary to walk over the door threshold, and do not step on it directly, as it is believed that spirits live in the door threshold, and by stepping on these you are upsetting the spirit, who may then retaliate against the residents of the home and bring them bad luck.
While Thailand is very open-minded and free, it is proper etiquette to dress modestly when entering a temple or palace. This is a sign of respect to the monks and residents of these historic landmarks. It is considered respectful to at a bare minimum have your knees and shoulders covered when entering a palace or temple. For men, you may be able to get away with wearing shorts, but for women, the safest bet is to wear a long skirt or long pants. You should not wear tank tops, revealing sports attires, or t-shirts with inappropriate designs.
Always Return a Wai Greeting
A Wai greeting (pronounced “why”) is a traditional greeting in Thailand. It is usually accompanied by the phrase “Sawasdee” and is offered as a greeting, thank you, goodbye, and apology. While it is not expected that tourists offer Wai greetings to Thai people first, it is expected that they return a Wai greeting when one is presented. Monks do not need to return Wai greetings, and Wai greetings do not need to be offered to those who are younger than you.
Respect The Monks And Do Not Touch Them
Monks are highly respected and revered in Thailand and are expected to be respected by visitors to Thailand as well. Please do not touch a Monk, especially if you are a woman. This is because Monks believe that a woman’s body goes against their Buddhist vows. Thus, many temples do not allow women in certain areas, and women should never touch a Monk. When you meet a monk, you can bow or wai but don’t ask any overly-personal questions about them. It is important for Thai people to interact with them appropriately since monks are so well-respected. For example, people usually give up their seats for monks on the bus.
Be Mindful When Taking Pictures
When visiting a temple, taking a photo of the temple and Buddha are usually allowed in Thailand. However, be mindful and respectful of the people praying and in some worship areas. Before taking a photo, look for the temple’s rules written outside on notice boards or just ask locals. Furthermore, show your gratitude for being allowed to take the photo by leaving a donation in the donation boxes. Donations from visitors help maintain the upkeep of the temples and palaces.
Thailand is known as “The Land of Smiles.” No wonder smiling is so important to Thai etiquette! When you are in Thailand, be happy and smile, and return smiles offered to you by others that cross paths with you on your journey.
You should also be aware, however, that smiling in Thailand does not always mean the person smiling is happy. A smile in Thailand can mean many things: embarrassment, frustration, apprehension, and much more. Returning a smile to someone who is smiling for a reason other than happiness could just be what they need to turn their mood around.
As with any culture, there are things in Thailand that you simply don’t do if you want to be courteous to your Thai hosts. Here are just a few habits you should break before visiting Thailand.
Don’t Touch People’s Heads
In Thailand, the head is considered to be sacred. It is also believed to be the cleanest body part and thus should never be touched. Just like in most countries around the world, it is considered rude to touch a stranger’s head. It is also disrespectful to touch the head of a statue, especially a statue of Buddha. However, close friends and family members often touch each other’s heads or hair, which is not considered rude. If you accidentally forget and touch a stranger’s head/hair, politely beg his or her pardon. If you need to reach something above someone’s head, say ‘excuse me’ first.
Don’t Prop Your Feet On Tables or High Up
Because feet are the lowest part of the body and are by nature dirty, they should never be propped up on tables or other surfaces. In Thai culture, feet are considered the least important and most unclean part of the body. If you are at a temple, do not stick your feet out in front of you, especially if your feet are pointing towards a monk or an image of Buddha. Other objects, like books, and food are considered high status in Thai culture, so don’t prop your feet on a coffee table or point your feet towards food. This is considered vulgar.
Avoid Being Overly Affectionate In Public
Though Thailand is a loving country and open to many expressions of love, they are modest when it comes to public displays of affection. Thus, it is best to not be overly affectionate in public places.
Do Not Collect Coral Fragments Or Shells From Their Natural Habitat
There are many practical reasons to not collect shells and coral fragments from their natural habitat. First and foremost it affects the ecology of the area. These pieces help create the pristine sand on Thailand’s famous beaches. They can also be used by native species for homes.
Due to global warming, the coral population in Thailand has been declining. This is why the country has increased its effort to protect corals in the past few years. If you take any corals or shells from the waters of Thailand, there will be a fine and you may get arrested.
For this reason, it is recommended to choose other things to bring home as a souvenir. There are many options when it comes to Thailand-specific items to choose from, like Buddha statues, Thai silk scarfs, and coconut oil.
Just like in many cultures, pointing is considered rude in Thailand. If you must gesture towards a person, it is recommended that you gesture by lifting your head and indicating with your chin. It is sometimes considered acceptable to point at objects and animals, however, it is preferred that if you must do this, you should use your whole hand to point, not just one finger.
Like every destination, Thailand has its norms that are customary when it comes to common courtesy expected from visitors entering the country. While visitors are not expected to know all these cultural norms, learning them and practicing them while in Thailand is certainly the courteous thing to do.