Thai Etiquette and Manners

Thai etiquette is a little different to what you may be accustomed to in the western world and without a few guidelines you might inadvertently cause some offense to someone. It is very unlikely that you will unintentionally cause any serious insult to anyone and Thais do extend leniency towards foreign visitors but, if you’d like to be regarded as a cultured and refined gentlemen whilst crawling bars for Thai women, then read on!

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You will find that the local people in general are a very calm, relaxed and pleasant people, and Thai etiquette esteems this sort of way of doing things. Obviously, there are exceptions to the rule, but for the most part it is a pleasure to be in the company of Thai people and the tolerant mannerisms.

The family unit is very important here and Thai family culture is quite different to Western family culture. In Thailand, children are extremely respectful towards their parents and you will find that, daughters in particular, take great care of their parents in their old age.

The country is called the 'land of smiles' with good reason, you will be greeted with smiles wherever you go, it's something about Thai people that is different to other people in the world, and it is a very pleasing aspect of Thai culture. Thai etiquette demands a smiling face in all sorts of situations where you might not expect one.

Thai street hawkerA Thai man using a common photo pose and gesture...

For example, whilst watching the local news one day I saw a report about a man who had been arrested for a serious crime – he was all smiles as he carried out a reconstruction of his crime! Now, obviously, he wasn’t enjoying his predicament or making light of his offense, it’s just that smiling in all sorts of strange situations is something that Thai etiquette expects.

If there is just one thing that you should do whilst in Thailand to fit in well with the rules of Thai etiquette, it is smile. Luckily, this is something that will come to you easily enough.

I think that there is a generally higher level of happiness and carefree living in Thailand, but there is clearly more to it than that. Some people think that the smiles are something to do with the popular Buddhist faith, but there are other Buddhist countries where the smiles are less forthcoming, so I think that it is uniquely Thai in its origins.

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Other Thai etiquette observations

Rice, and whatever main dish you eat with it, is presented on separate plates. The idea is that you will use a spoon to serve the main dish onto the rice, but only do it 1 or 2 spoonfuls at a time. What you don’t do is spoon the entire main dish into the middle of your rice. The reason behind this is that Thais usually eat together and, whilst they’ll each have their own plate of rice, they will share each other’s main dishes.

If you are with a Thai girl and you just plough straight into your food without making it available for sharing you might be seen as being a bit uncouth, but if you’ve ordered burger and chips then I wouldn’t worry about it. For more pointers on restaurant antics, have a read of this mealtime madness story.

Whilst not belonging to Thai etiquette practises, the western gesture of opening doors for your lady and similar romantic gestures will be greatly appreciated. Thai men don’t fall in with sort of behaviour, but it is something that endears us westerners to the women.

It is considered impolite for a foreigner to discuss such things as Thai politics, religion, the monarchy, or any other distinctly Thai institutions. It is considered to be none of your business and the best thing to do is simply avoid any such conversation. If you are pulled into a discussion, my advice is to be respectful but keep any controversial opinions you might have to yourself – especially if they differ to mainstream Thai opinions.

The 2-finger salute that the Thai man in the picture above is showing is not to be confused with the British version that came into use after the battle of Agincourt – it has nothing to do with bow-fingers! It’s actually meant to bring good luck and you’ll see it a lot whenever a camera comes out to play.

Never show anger of any sort, this is a big one that I’ve mentioned before but Thai etiquette demands that in almost any circumstance you should remain completely in control of your emotions. Showing any sort of loss of control of one’s emotions will have you branded a child and you’ll lose a lot of respect from all who witness it. On top of that, it’s fruitless anyway, the response to anger is never going to bring you anything good in Thailand.

Always pay your bills, even if you got the wrong/inferior product or service. Receiving a lousy service or product in Thailand is going to be quite commonplace compared to what you get in the west, but don’t go thinking that a refund is going to come your way. The best thing to do is make a mental note and simply take your custom elsewhere.

Don't point with your feet, and don’t touch anyone on the head! Hierarchy features in all sorts of things in Thailand and even your own body parts have a hierarchy. The head is most revered body-part whilst the feet are considered the lowest. To point at someone with your feet is considered to be quite rude and Thai etiquette requires a different approach. Even pointing with your finger is frowned upon, but nodding in the direction of the person or thing of interest is fine.

Final thoughts

Observing these simple rules of Thai etiquette should keep you in high regard as far as Thai girls are concerned; there’s obviously a lot more to know – the whole ‘wai’ thing is one subject I’ve not discussed as it is quite complicated to judge how to use it. In fact, my advice is not to use it at all, even when receiving a wai. It’s better just to nod your head in acknowledgment of the wai… and smile a lot – mustn’t forget the smiling thing :)

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