7 dos and don’ts of Thai cultural etiquette

Thai culture contains a myriad of customs – both acceptable behaviours and faux pas. Take a step in the right direction with these seven know-before-you-go tips

Don’t bad mouth royalty

Thai people greatly admire and look up to their royal family, to the point where you’ll see pictures of them everywhere, including in shops and people’s homes. To respect the Thai family is one of the most important pieces of cultural etiquette in Thailand – the country actually has a lese majeste law, whereby it’s illegal to insult the royal family.

This law is taken extremely seriously and the breaking of it has been known to result in lengthy prison time, even for foreigners. Never say anything, either in person, private messages, or on social media, to insult the Thai royal family.

Do cover up in temples

Temples in Thailand are extremely holy places, and should be treated as such when you’re visiting one. Even if you’re in a particularly touristy destination where it’s acceptable to walk around in beach gear, you should always cover up when you enter a temple.

This means throwing a top or shawl over your shoulders and chest, and covering your knees too if possible. Keep a big scarf in your bag at all times to make sure you’re prepared. It would be sad to not be able to visit a temple you stumble upon just because you didn’t have the appropriate clothing!

Do take your shoes off

When entering temples, private homes, or even some shops and offices, take your shoes off. You’ll know when it’s appropriate to do so because you’ll see lines and piles of shoes outside the front door. Feet are considered the dirtiest part of the body in Thailand, and shoes even more so. Therefore, it’s considered a big no-no to point at anything with your feet, put your feet up on the table, or touch anyone with your feet.

Don’t underestimate the Buddha symbol

Thailand is a primarily Buddhist country, and any statues and sites that include the image of the Buddha should be treated with the utmost respect. Don’t climb on Buddhas in temples as it is deemed offensive and in some cases this can even more a punishable offence by law.

While we’re on the subject of Buddhas, it is also technically illegal to take images of the Buddha out of the country without special permission. You will still see them being sold in shops and you may well get away with taking one with you, but err on the side of caution because it’s not worth getting caught and questioned for.

Don’t touch people’s heads

In Thailand, the head is considered sacred and the cleanest part of the body, so it’s deemed offensive to touch people’s heads or hair. If you slip up and do this accidently, apologise as soon as you can and you’ll find most Thais will quickly forgive you for it.

Be especially mindful of this custom if you’re volunteering with or teaching children in Thailand – it’s easy to forget and ruffle a child’s hair. You might see a Thai local touch a child’s head every now and then, but it’s not appropriate for Westerners to do so.

© Just2shutter | Dreamstime.com - Give Food Offerings To A Buddhist Monk Photo

Do respect monks

The monks you’ll encounter across Thailand are deeply religious people, and should be shown reverence. Crossing paths with one comes with its own set of rules: bow when you meet one, don’t ask any overly-personal questions about them, be cautious as they get to know you (they can be nervous of tourists), and never pass anything directly to them – put it down in front of them instead. If you’re a woman, be extra careful with monks; it’s strictly forbidden for monks to have physical contact with a woman, so don’t touch or even brush past them.

Do return the ‘wai’ greeting

Thailand’s wai greeting – where you bow your head and place your hands together in a prayer position – is a common way of saying hello and being friendly. To fit in with the local way of life, return this gesture when it’s directed at you, and smile while doing so. Thai people are warm and welcoming characters, and will appreciate the same attitude reciprocated back to them in this simple way.

 

Main Image: © Magicinfoto | Dreamstime.com - Buddhist Monks Praying On Eve Photo

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