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Thailand, the Land of Smiles, is steeped in history and age-old religious traditions which continue to profoundly influence the way of life of Thai people and differ from the culture and customs of the West.


‘Sawadee’ - Respect
Respect is a fundamental aspect of Thai culture.  Thai people do not shake hands and the typical greeting when meeting someone new is ‘wai’, which is accompanied by a bow, known as ‘sawadee’ – in fact, all greetings, ranging from hello to goodbye, are called ‘sawadee’. Thai people respect their elders and refer to them as ‘pee’ – younger people are referred to as ‘nong’. Despite so much formality, every Thai person has a nickname which, contrary to their long names, consists of a single syllable, such as ‘Gai’, ‘Pook’, ‘Tae’, etc. 

‘Sanuk’ - Fun
The most noticeable thing about Thailand is the light-hearted nature of its people. ‘Sanuk’ – fun – is a huge part of their lives – this is not an indication that Thai people do not like working; it’s just that they prefer to live for the moment. Thai people are famous for their lovely smile, which stems from their love of Sanuk.

Saving face
Thai people have a strong belief in saving face, which means that they do not like confrontation and prefer to avoid embarrassing themselves and other people. Curiously, Thai people will smile at another person’s misfortune – this should not be regarded as an attitude of callousness, but is merely their attempt to save face for the person who is suffering the misfortune.  The main source behind the famously-known Thai smile is saving face.

‘Phu Yai’ and ‘Phu Noi’ – Social Status
Social status plays a huge role in Thai culture – when meeting a new person, an automatic assumption is made regarding the ‘Phu Yai’ or ‘Phu Noi; standing of a person – ‘Phu Yai’ means ‘big’ or important people, while ‘Phu Noi’ refers to ‘little’ people.  Sometimes a Thai person will even ask a great deal of inquisitive questions, but this should not be taken as offensive, because all they want to do is place the person’s social standing. ‘Phu Noi’ must defer to ‘Phu Yai’ by demonstrating obedience and showing respect. In return, ‘Phu Yai are under obligation to assist ‘Phu Noi’. An example of how this works is that adults preside over children, managers preside over employees, elder siblings preside over younger siblings and even Thai preside over non-Thai.

‘Mai Pen Rai’ – Never mind
‘Mai Pen Rai’ - ‘never mind’ - is amply demonstrated in the way Thai people view time. In fact, you will find that a Thai person will have a vague or even inaccurate view of time and is often late for an appointment.

Feet
As feet are considered to be a no-no, you should never step over another person’s legs, even if you are in a crowded place, such as a train – rather wait for the person to move than having to step over their legs. Often food is eaten on the floor, so it is a huge faux pas to step over food.

Thai people consider it disgusting to wear shoes indoors – this practice even extends to some shops and guest houses – a clue to this is if you see shoes piled up at an entrance.

Calculator Action!
Thai traders are extremely skilled at striking bargains. Items sold in shops and by hawkers do not have price tags – you would need to ask how much something costs in order to find out the price. The usual way the vendor starts the ball rolling is by typing the price in a calculator and showing it to the potential seller, who is expected to participate actively in the haggling process.

Spicy cuisine
Thailand has excellent gourmet food, with fragrant rice being one of the main ingredients.  A typical Thai dinner comprises several dishes placed simultaneously on the table, where they will be eaten in no particular set order.  Small portions are taken from different dishes and eaten together with the rice.   Herbs, chilli oils, sauces and aromatic spices are all found in Thai cuisine. 

Marriage customs
Once a couple is engaged, the custom is to consult a Buddhist monk who will give them astrological advice which will help them set an appropriate wedding date.  The customary wedding dress is not the distinctive Thai clothing that you would normally see, it is more similar to the attire used in Western weddings.

 

So there you have it - a basic introduction to the customs and culture of Thailand, the land of ‘Sanuk’, ‘Mai Pen Rai’, gorgeous people and gorgeous smiles!

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