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Social Customs & Behavior in Thailand

The don'ts of Thai social behavior are less clearly defined than those concerning the monarchy or religion-especially in a city like Bangkok where Western customs are better known and more widely accepted. However, what is acceptable in Bangkok may not be in the countryside where the old ways are still strong. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Thais DO NOT normally shake hands when they greet one another, but instead press the palms together. In a prayer-like gesture called a wai. Generally, a younger person wais an elder, who returns it. Watch how the Thais do it, and you will soon learn

It is considered rude to point your foot at a person, so try to avoid doing so when sitting opposite anyone, and following the conception that the foot is a low limb; DO NOT point your foot to show anything to anyone, but use your finger instead.

Thais regard the head as the highest part of the body both literally and figuratively. As a result they DO NOT approve of touching anyone on that part of the body; even in a friendly gesture. Similarly, if you watch Thais a social gathering, you will notice that young people go to considerable lengths to keep their heads lower than those of the elder ones, to avoid giving the impression of "looking down" on them. This is not always possible, of course, but it is the effort that counts.

Public displays of affection between men and women are frowned upon. You may see some very Westernized young Thai couples holding hands, but that is the extent of the displaying of affection in this polite society.

Losing your temper, especially in public, will more than likely get you nowhere. The Thais think such displays denote poor manners, and you are more apt to get what you want by keeping a cool head and concealing your emotions.

DO NOT be surprised if you are addressed by your first name; for instance, Mr. Peter or Miss Ann instead of by your surname. This is because Thais refer to one another in this manner, usually with the title "Khun" (Mr., Mrs., or Miss) in front. Follow the customs of any country as far as possible, and you will make more friends during your stay. The more friends you make, the more you will want to return to Thailand.

Thai Family

Thai family has a hierarchy with the parents at the top of it. Children are educated to always honor their parents and to thank them for the time and money used for education. A lot of words are used in Thai language to identify all the members of the family.
When speaking to an elder, Thai children always use the word phi. When the difference of age is not important, they only use first name. Younger must respect elder, listen to their advices. Elder shall protect younger.
In everyday society, when speaking to an unknown person, Thai people use Thai word phi because they don't know if this person is older or not. Even between friends, there is a hierarchy. The younger person will use phi word. The elder person will use the first name.

Children and Parents

Everything is a question of age and sex. Seniority is a important part of Thai society. A younger person shall respect the older person. When Thai children write letters to their parents, they often begin their letter with the words "Father, Mother that I respect". Thai children used to live not far from their parents. A big part of the wages should be given to parents. Now things are changing. With the industrialization of Thailand, a lot of young Thai people go to Bangkok to take their chance. They almost continue to send money to support their parents. But parents, far away of children, have less influence on them. Before parents will choose the future mate. Now a lot of young Thai people choose on their own. Children are the assurance for the parents. Often Thai children continue to live in their parent's house even if they are old enough to live their own life. Especially for girls, they should not leave their parent's home if they are not married. If a girl is living alone, everybody will gossip that she is a bad girl or a "mia noi" ( mistress ) of a wealthy man. In Thailand there is no pension when workers retire. So the only support for the old parents are their children. Thai people don't like the westerner principle to send old parents in special nursing-home. They say it is not a nice way to thank parents for all the goodness they did. All the family often live together. 

Husband and Wife

Often cultural shocks happen between Thai wife's and farang husbands. One difficult thing is the need to support a remote family in Thailand. Thai children are educated to respect their parents and support them. So money shall be send to them. On the contrary, everyone will say that the children have a stone heart ("chai dam"). Most Thai people don't understand why a beautiful house is not built for the mother-in-law. Most of them imagine that all the foreigners are rich. When both of the married couple are working, the woman wants to keep her money for her own purpose and the money of the husband is used for everyday expense. It is not the westerner point of view where the two wages are used in the everyday life.

 
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