Thailand: Public Behaviour – Part 1

2015-06-12

Acceptible public conduct

Thai culture can, despite what you may first think when walking around Bangkok, be very conservative. It is always best to wear long sleeved shirts and pants, and shoes rather than sandals if you are unsure.

For females in particular, it is better to wear clothes that cover your shoulders and upper legs, especially if going to a social function where work colleagues will be present.

The dirtiness and crowded nature of most cities are countered by most Thais through an incredible level of cleanliness when it comes to their own possessions and in particular their car and house. Always remove your shoes before going into someone’s home.

Holding hands in public and expressions of emotion are not really accepted, but younger generations are changing this. Touching is generally a sign of acceptance and trust, but should never be initiated by the foreigner.

Most often a Thai will greet a foreigner with a handshake. Following the lead of the Thai and being ready for a handshake are the most important points to remember.

Unfortunately, spitting and nose blowing in public are common, as is nose picking. Some public campaigns have tried to change this, to little effect so far.

General Cultural Points to Remember

Be careful not to step over anything, especially food or someone’s work, or touch anything with your feet. Be careful not to point your feet at someone or something.

Be aware that it is not appropriate to touch people on the head, or pass things over the head. An example of this kind of mistake is to pass a microphone cord over someone’s head.

Body odour can be an issue in this climate–always leave time to cool down before going to visit a client, and if you are going to be outside during the day and will be attending an event in the evening, a change of shirt may be a good idea.

There are no real rules for passing a temple, except that any Thais in the group may stop for a second and say a short prayer. If you do visit a temple, follow the signs in regards to cameras and shoes, and never step on a door sill. Observe how the Thais enter, and follow their lead.

Pointing is considered rude–instead use your whole hand to gesture carefully in the general direction of the thing you want to point out.

If you would like to gesture for someone to come to you, this is best done by extending your hand out with the palm down and gently motioning your fingers towards you.

Crossing your legs is an acceptable way to sit in Thailand.

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