When in Thailand, do as Thais do!...
Posted on 13 November 2018
WHEN IN THAILAND!
We all know the iconic saying, ‘When in Rome’. Although several moments in Thailand will not immediately make you an expert in Thai customs and culture, it won’t hurt to go prepared. Understanding their culture and way of life as well as knowing how to greet and dress well in Thailand will earn you a great deal of respect as a tourist. Here are some easy things to remember before you travel to Thailand:
#1. Local greetings with “wai”
The first essential tip for greeting locals like a local is using the ‘wai’ gesture. Thais are very polite and respectful people, even when they are greeting a random stranger. To complete this ‘wai’ gesture to greet, you should say "sa-wa-di-kar" if you are female, or "sa-wa-di-karp" if you are male.
This gesture is a tribute of respect that you will find alot in Thailand. Thais "wai" at the temple before they pray, when they say 'kap-khun-ka' (thank you), and general greetings. To "wai," you must place your palms together like a prayer in-front of your nose, then bow slightly. You may greet people as you arrive or leave a place, when passing by locals, or when greeting a monk. If you find yourself in an informal setting it is okay to shorten the greeting to "sa-wa-di."
#2. Dressing appropriately.
Thailand is a tropical haven but with that comes the heat. For many people Thailand is a very hot destination so it comes as no surprise that people may end up dressing ‘inappropriately’ under Thai culture. In more rural areas of Thailand (excluding, for instance, Bangkok) to dress appropriately does mean to err on the side of conservatism. You don’t need to go out to buy traditional Thai clothing, but you should wear clothes that cover your shoulders and knees.
#3. Avoid conversations on Politics and the Royal Family.
Just don’t do it! The Kingdom of Thailand is governed under the Royal Thai Government, where the King still holds significant powers under the Thai constitution. The general rule of thumb here is to avoid all politics-related matters when visiting, this is especially true when it comes to the monarchy of Thailand. If you don’t already know, The Royal Family is highly revered and beloved in all of Thailand. To speak ill of them can lead to legal penalties. So don’t do it!
#4. Be respectful when visiting temples.
Where 94% of the population of a country is Bhuddhist, you can find stunning temples that are designed with utmost delicacy. However, it is important to bear in mind the that these statues and images within these temples - especially those of Buddha - are deemed sacred. It comes to no surprise therefore that people visiting these temples must maintain a sense of respectfulness when entering these places of worship. So although you will be allowed to take photos with any religious statue, figure or architecture, you are expected to dress appropriately when visiting temples and definitely to always be respectful when doing so!
#5. No hand shakes or hugs!
Thai people are some of the most warm and welcoming people out there but it is important to note that Thais do not have a particularly touchy culture. It is considered dirty to shake someone’s hand and it is not proper to initiate a hug with a Thai. There are some exceptions, of course, if the person is a child, your partner, or someone that you know well, you may initiate a hug. And instead of shaking hands, it is more polite and respectful in Thai culture to do the Thai greeting and ‘wai’.
#6. Remove your shoes indoors. And don't touch your feet or someone else's head.
Following Buddhist values, in Thailand, it is important to remove your shoes when entering homes, some stores and temples. Another Buddhist value that is embedded in Thai culture is the treatment of bags. You should not put bags on the floor due to the high value that is placed on education in Thailand.
It is also very important to be aware of avoiding to touch one’s feet and someone’s head. This is because of the Buddhist belief that the head is the holiest part of someone’s body, while the feet are the lowest, thus dirties. Because of this, it will be good to avoid actions that involve your feet, such as stepping over people or pointing your feet to a direction, person or image.
#7. Don't be too direct when communicating with others.
Thais prefer to use indirect communication. This behaviour comes from the concept of ‘saving one’s face’ or saving the feelings of someone you’re communicating with. With this in mind, do your best to not come across too direct as locals perceive this as being rude or insensitive. If you need to be direct, it would be good to do so with a toned down voice and a smile!
#8. There are a few philosophies and phrases you should know.
"Nam-jai" - Means in direct translation - water heart. This refers to an idea of someone with a kind enough heart that overflows in its generosity without expecting anything in return. “Nam-jai” can be acquired by giving someone a gift, or an act of kindness.
"Greng-jai" - This concept is one that embodies the want to not intrude or impose themselves. In English - it could be best described by saying "I wouldn't want to be a bother." A person who feels greng-jai may be hesitant when accepting help from another person.
"Jai-yen-yen" - In direct translation this phrase is said to ‘cool your heart’. The most equivalent to English is to "take it easy" or to "calm down." Someone may say it to help relieve another of anxiousness, fear or stress. Jai-yen-yen is always said in a positive context, as it is meant to help someone relax and feel better!
"Mai-bhen-rai" - This literally translates to "there is no worry." Although in some contexts this phrase is used as "nevermind" or "no problem," it's primarily used to reassure someone not to worry. Like "jai-yen-yen," this phrase is reflective of how Thais love to live and their overall lifestyle. You will most certainly hear it on your visit to Thailand!
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