Thai Etiquette & Behaviour
Thai people are extremely polite and their behaviour is tightly controlled by etiquette, much of it based on their Buddhist religion.
The Thai society is a non confrontational one, in which public dispute or criticism is to be avoided at all costs. To show anger, annoyance, impatience or to raise your voice is s sign of weakness and lack of mental control. Only patience, humour, and jai yen (cool heart) bring results to disputes and problems in Thailand.
If you are out eating, Thais eat most dishes with a fork and tablespoon. The fork is held in the left hand and is used to push food onto the spoon. Food is always eaten from the spoon as the Thais consider it rude to put a fork into your mouth. It is also considered very rude to blow your nose or to lick you fingers. The right hand must be used to pick up food eaten with the fingers, such as rice, as the left hand is considered unclean and should not be used to eat or receive gifts, this could prove awkward for left handed people.
Revealing clothing, such as low cut dresses and t-shirts, short shorts and skimpy bathing costumes, is a little disgusting to most adult Thais. In temples, long trousers or skirts must be worn and shoes should always be removed when entering temples and private houses. Clothing from the lower parts of the body, such as socks, shorts and skirts, should never be left anywhere in a high position. When the Thais are washing and drying clothes, they have two clothes lines - a high one for most clothes and a low one for underwear and socks. Shorts and swim wear are only acceptable on the beach.
Monks should never be touched in any way by women. You will see special seating set aside for Monks in public transport even at the airports so don’t sit there. The Monks are generally very interested in foreigners and most older ones are proficient in English and many are well travelled and educated. Avoid touching Thai people, it is too intimate a gesture and an invasion of their personal space.
The head is the most sacred part of the body, and so should not be touched. The feet are the least sacred, so when sitting they should not point at anyone - to point, particularly with a foot, is extremely insulting. Never sit with your feet facing other Thai people and especially if you visit any temples make sure you sit with your feet facing away from any Buddha image.
The traditional Thai greeting is the wai, where the hands are placed together as in prayer, and raised upwards towards the face, while the head is lowered in a slight bow. The height to which the hands should be raised depends on the status of the person you are waiing. In the case of monks, dignitaries and old people the hands are raised to the bridge of the nose, with equals only as far as the chest. Young people and inferiors are not waid, but nodded slightly to. As a sign of courtesy, lower your head as you pass a group of people.
Be careful, because smiles do not always mean that the Thais are happy or amused, they could be embarrassed, uncertain, wrong, annoyed or furious, its not ‘cool’ for a Thai person to loose their temper as it is seen as a weakness and lack of respect should you find yourself in a potential dispute then try to remain calm and refrain from shouting as this will not resolve the dispute any quicker and more likely to cause you even more problems.
The Thai people have great respect for the royal family and expect visitors to show respect. For example, in a cinema a portrait of the King is shown during the playing of the national anthem, and the audience is expected to stand.
A Good Tip
Westerners are not expected to know all the etiquette, customs and gestures, but a few little attempts will be much appreciated and in particular your show of respect for their Royal Family.