When you travel to Thailand or visit any other country, it is easy to assume that our values apply there also, or that other people think like we do. This can lead to very embarrassing situations when we find out that we just unknowingly insulted someone or made a fool of ourselves.
Before your Thailand travel adventure, familiarize yourself with the following two lists. One is about things that you should never do, and the other is about things that you should do frequently. I promise you, your Thailand holiday will go a lot smoother and be more fun.
Here is a list of things that you should avoid when you visit Thailand:
- Never say anything negative about the king.
This can land you in jail or get you thrown out of the country. This is a serious offense and the laws in Thailand are quite clear about this.
- Don’t say anything negative about monks.
Although everyone in Thailand knows that not all monks are saints, they are still highly respected and fulfill a very important function in society.
- Don’t show anger or impatience.
If you do, you will not accomplish anything and you will ‘lose your face’, meaning that any respect that the Thais might have had for you is gone. It is not acceptable to show strong emotions, especially the negative kind.
- Don’t wear your shoes in anyone’s house or in a temple.
A good tip is to wear shoes that you can easily take off. There is a good reason why the majority of Thais are wearing flip flops or other types of slip-on shoes. You will also find shops or offices (my dentist for example) where you are required to take off your shoes.
- Don’t point your feet at anyone,
especially not at a Buddha statue or picture, a monk, or a picture of the king or members of the royal family. If you do, it will be seen as highly offensive, even if you are not aware of it. For example, you sit in a temple cross legged, your knees start hurting and you want to stretch your legs out. Make sure you do not point them in the direction of the altar, or any statue, picture or monk.
- Don’t speak quickly or use difficult words.
If you do, nobody will understand you. Slow down your talking pace to about half your normal speed and consciously use simple words. Ideally you should use the present tense only. The Thai language does not use tenses to the extent of European languages, and most Thais won’t understand you if you use tenses. For example, instead of saying “I might have gone there”, which nobody will understand, simplify it by saying something like “maybe I go there”.
- Don’t try to touch, hug or kiss any Thais.
They would be very embarrassed. Hugging and kissing is confined to the bedroom for the most part. Even slapping someone on the shoulders or putting your hand on someone’s arm is seen as inappropriate.
- Don’t ever reprimand anyone strongly or tell someone flat-out they are wrong.
You will make them lose their face and they will dislike you for it. You need to make suggestions or drop hints instead. Just be more subtle. Losing face is a big issue in Thailand.
- Don’t expect that people will tell you the truth about everything.
Generally Thais don’t like to say “no”. They will say what is convenient, polite, what helps everyone keep their ‘face’, and what is pleasant to hear. To the Thais, this is more important than if it is true or correct or not. Find out more about this here.
- Don’t try to shake people’s hands.
This is generally not done. And if you end up shaking someone’s hand anyway, do it gently without firm pressure, otherwise you will be perceived as a bully.
Here is a list of things which will smoothe your travel in Thailand:
- Whenever confronted with a difficult situation or person, keep a smile on your face.
Thailand is called the “land of smiles” for a reason. A smile will open many more doors than a direct, confrontational or pushy approach.
- Tell people that you like Thai food.
Everyone loves to hear that, since eating is one of the most important aspects of life in Thailand.
- Learn a few words in Thai,
and your acceptance ranking will move up a few notches. Thais are amazingly appreciative even if you only speak half a dozen words of Thai. A little knowledge will go a long way here.
- Smile at strangers.
You will be amazed how many beautiful smiles you will get in return. Thais are shy people, but they are not shy about smiling. Find out more about the famous Thai smile here.
- Slow down your pace, take time to talk to strangers.
It is very easy to strike up a conversation with just about anyone in Thailand and people love to talk to you. Almost everyone will make time for a little chat. You will learn a lot about Thailand and its people in this way.
- Speak slowly and clearly and use simple words.
This way you will be understood and it will make conversations much more interesting and enjoyable. Always remember that if you can say something is less words, you will be understood better.
- Use common sense.
Just because Thais are smiling at you does not mean they love you. Just because they are friendly does not mean they are your friend. If anything does not feel right, stay away from the situation.
Following these guidelines will make your Thailand trip much more pleasant. It will open doors for you and will help you to avoid stepping on people’s “cultural toes”.