Understanding the Thai Culture

Thailand is a country that lies between Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar. Its culture mixes strong Indian influences, Chinese traditions, and unique Thai elements. It has a diverse geography, friendly people, stunning scenery, and it has been tagged as the Land of Smiles.If you’re moving in Thailand and you’re from a Western country, you are going to notice that the culture here is completely different compared to your home country. Therefore, it is very important that you understand the culture of Thailand and be sensitive to it because this will help you integrate much more easily.

If you will be moving to Thailand soon and you want to live there for a long period of time, then you need to understand their culture better. To help you out, we are giving you some of the things you should know about the culture of Thailand.

Patriotism is Important

In Thailand, the head of state is the King and you should know that it is against the law to say anything derogatory about him or the rest of the royal family.

Every 8am and 6pm, the national anthem is played in many public places including the BTS system. When you hear it, you need to stand to attention with your hands on your sides. Do not do anything else while the national anthem is being played. This is also done at cinemas before the films start.

Be Careful with Money

In all Thai coins, you will find an image of the King’s head, therefore, you need to treat them with care. For money notes, you cannot scrunch them up, throw them, or step on them because it’s like you’re stepping on the king. If ever you drop a note or a coin and it blows or rolls away from you, never use your feet to stop it. Instead, pick it up using your hand.

Loss of Face and Respect Are Big Deals in Thailand

The concept of face, respect, and shame are very important in Thailand. When visiting somebody’s home, it is a bad form and considered disrespectful without taking at least a small gift. Not removing your shoes when entering a home is also disrespectful for them. When you disrespect someone in different ways, it can cause a person to lose face or to be embarrassed or shamed publicly. Another way of causing a person to lose face is yelling at him in public.

elderly people in Thailand
Elderly people in Thailand

In Thailand, locals like harmony and they would rather smile and let something go than make an issue out of it. Group harmony is more important for them compared to what the individual thinks or feels. This makes the Thai society and the people here easy going. Therefore, when you live in Thailand, you should learn to deal with different situations calmly. The best thing to do is to smile and just forget about what makes you angry. And by doing this, you will be able to gain face and Thai people will see that you understand their culture and that you are doing something to fit in.

People in Thailand are Conservative

There are many small towns in Thailand that still have very conservative attitudes. In fact, you won’t be able to see couples holding hands and kissing here. Therefore, if you have a girlfriend in Thailand and she invites you to visit her home town, do not be upset if she refuses to hold your hand. You should not insist that she does as well because people there might assume that she’s a prostitute. Keep in mind that life in big cities like Bangkok is different in smaller places. You need to try to fit in by accepting the differences.

Respecting Monks

When you live in Thailand, you will be seeing monks a lot both inside the temples and outside on the streets, buses, and at festivals, and you should respect them. You should not touch a monk, especially when you’re a woman.

a woman praying to monks
A woman praying to monks

You should never point your feet towards them as well or even to the royal family, or any Buddha image. In fact, you should not point your feet at anyone in Thailand because that is considered disrespectful and rude. This is because the feet are considered to be the dirtiest part of the body, that’s why it’s very rude to point them at anyone.

Family is Important

In Thailand, family almost always comes first, with a much greater emphasis placed on the extended family than it is in western countries. You might be shocked by how many siblings a Thai person has. It’s because in Thailand, there is no word for cousin, therefore, people also refer to them as their brothers and sisters.

It is also normal in Thailand for extended families to live close to each other. It is common for children to be raised by uncles, aunts, and grandparents, especially if their parents need to work somewhere far.

Status is a Huge Thing in Thai Culture

It may not be immediately obvious, but status is important in the Thai culture. Some of the contributing factors to a person’s perceived status in society are age, family connections, education, job types, and income levels. And status is not fixed here. It’s because a Thai can gain or lose status if their circumstances change. Status is important when a group of people is socializing together. This means that the highest earner should foot the bill.

Smiles Have Different Meanings

It’s true that people in Thailand are always smiling. This makes many people think that Thailand is a warm, happy, and welcoming nation that is why it has been known as the Land of Smiles.

A woman smiling while wearing a Chiang Mai costume
A woman smiling while wearing a Chiang Mai costume

However, you need to understand that smiles don’t always show happiness because they are sometimes used as a mask. Knowing this is not to detract from the fact that Thai people are kind and welcoming, but just to understand that a smile may not be what you think it is.

Yes, Might Mean No for Thai People

In Thailand, yes doesn’t always mean yes. Thai people do not like to let other people down that’s why they will sometimes agree to things even if they don’t want it or they actually have no intention to follow through on what they said. Aside from that, it’s quite rare for a Thai person to say that they don’t know something, especially when giving directions. This means that you may sometimes be told what a person thinks will make you happy to save disappointing you or being unable to help.

Unique Religion

Buddhism is the predominant religion in Thailand, specifically Theravada Buddhism. The religion practiced here is somewhat unique compared to other Buddhist nations because it has been infused with many outside elements. Traditional Chinese beliefs and Hindu practices have influenced local beliefs to an extent, with animist beliefs playing a big role in making Thai Buddhism what it is in the present time.

a brass Buddhism statue
A brass Buddhism statue

You will see many Thai people carrying talismans and wearing amulets even though Buddhism prohibits attachment to material objects. Also, the belief in spirits and ghost is strong in Thailand. It stems from traditional pre-Buddhism beliefs. You will also notice spirit shrines in different places here.

Land of Superstitions

Thailand is also tagged as the land of superstitions. It’s because people here usually consult a fortune teller or monk for an auspicious date before arranging events like wedding, buying a house, test driving a car, and more.

Aside from that, they also have the tradition of giving newborn babies a nickname originated from a desire to trick wicked spirits who may want to steal the baby. Traditionally, people in Thailand also avoided complimenting parents on their new baby, fearing that they might make the child desirable to the spirits. They have more superstitions here. Some are related to spirits housed inside the body of dolls, not cutting children’s hair of they are sick, animals, dreams, and more.

Body Awareness

People in Thailand place importance to different parts of the body. For them, the head is the most spiritual part of the body that’s why a person’s head should never be touched. This goes for children as well. Meaning, an affectionate ruffling of their hair could cause offense to Thai parents.

Using a finger to point is also impolite in Thailand because it’s as is beckoning somebody with a crooked finger. Thais usually use their lips to point, pushing them out to indicate a direction. You can also use your whole hand when pointing, with all fingers outstretched to point.

These are some of the Thai culture that you need to understand if you want to live in Thailand. Thais are generally very tolerant and they understand that foreign visitors will sometimes make a faux pas. They will overlook cultural differences as long as it’s not something major such as showing disrespect to the monarchy and religion and yelling in public.

Thailand indeed has a different culture compared to western countries. But it is still a really nice place to live in. If you’re thinking of moving to Thailand but you’re not fully decided yet, you can check out our post on The Top 10 Wonderful Reasons to Move to Thailand for more information.