Want to avoid an embarrassing faux pas? These are the top ten things not to do in Thailand.
Thailand, much like anywhere else in the world, has its own set of social norms and codes of conduct. There are a lot of things that while you might think are totally normal, Thai people will find deeply unsettling, rude or just plain confusing.
DON’T GET ANGRY, KEEP SMILING.
Known as the Land of Smiles, Thai people will always respond with a smile. It’s not because they are always happy but it is a means of gracefully handling conflicts and awkward situations. This makes it difficult for tourists who do not know the culture to understand them. It will seem like they are not taking you seriously after you have complained about the hair in your Pad Thai, but they are actually smiling to politely and diplomatically diffuse the situation. On that note, no matter how frustrated you are with a tuk tuk negotiation, showing an angry face will get you nowhere so remember to smile.
DON’T PUT YOUR FEET ON THE TABLE.
As the feet are considered the lowest part of the body, Thai people find it disrespectful when you put the feet on the table. The offense is much worsened by having your shoes on.
DON’T WEAR SHOES INSIDE A LOCAL’S HOUSE OR TEMPLE.
As shoes are considered dirty, taking them off when entering a local’s house or temple is a sign of respect. Just make sure you don’t have holes in your socks. Also, remember where you had left your shoes or flipflops or you might have to walk back to your hostel barefoot.
DON’T USE YOUR OWN SPOON.
In Thailand, it is quite common for meals to be shared. When you are eating with locals, use the serving spoons provided.
DON’T USE YOUR LEFT HAND.
In Thailand, the left hand is used for toilet moments and is considered dirty. So, please be sure to hand objects and payments with your right hand. As an added gesture of respect, place your left hand on your right forearm when offering something. This could be a challenge if you are one of those people who have a difficulty distinguishing right from left.
DON’T WAI WILLY NILLY.
The Wai is like a postcard Thai gesture that is always shown on travel ads. Even Ronald McDonald does the Wai. This does not mean, however, that you can just Wai without knowing how to do it properly. The Wai is a gesture of respect. The usual Wai would mean that your fingertips are close to your chin. To give more respect, the fingertips can go up to the nose. Although it is nice to return the Wai, it is sometimes safer to smile as you are not meant to return the Wai to hotel staff, waiters and store owners or to children.
DON’T WAI LOW. “HIGH WAI FOR THE MONK GUY.”
As mentioned earlier, the height of the Wai depends on the status of the person that you are addressing. As monks are figures of utmost respect in Thai culture, your joined hands should reach your hairline, the highest Wai fit for a king.
DON’T TOUCH A MONK, LADIES.
Monks are very common in Thailand. You will find them walking on the streets or chilling in Internet shops or cafes. As much as you would like to get that I’m chummy with the monk guy selfie, keep your distance as contact with females in any form is not allowed in their belief system. If you need to pass something to a monk, you will need to put it down on a table for him to pick up.
DON’T TOUCH ANYONE’S HEAD.
Being the highest point of the body, Thai people do find it disrespectful when you pat them on the head. No matter how adorable that Thai kid is, please keep your hands off the top of his head.
If you really, really need to point, do it with four fingers with your thumb on the palm, like you are gesturing the number 4.
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