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Do and Don't


Different manners and customs can contribute to the charm of traveling in foreign countries - or they can turn into an annoyance as well when you are unaware of some typical peculiarities of that country.
Thailand is the country of good manners. However, the cause and effect of these go further than you can imagine. Often they are, as everywhere in the world, nothing more than an expression of politeness, respect and consideration for other people.
Furthermore, there are a number of observations to take note of in order to avoid misunderstandings, problems and a kind of “culture shock“ for both parties.
King Bhumipol and his family symbolizes national identity, liberty and stability. The Thais love and honour their King in a simple, honest and impressive manner. Open criticism or even humorous notations about the King's family are treated as insults  can result in many problems.

At 8 am and at 6 pm sharp the National Anthem sounds from all radio and TV stations and from loudspeakers in public buildings throughout the whole country. With the exception of big cities and very touristic places, life stands still for about one minute.

In several provincial capitals, for example Nakhon Si Thammarat or Khon Kaen, there is a ringer who walks around in nighttime with a hammer or an iron rod which he strikes on   street lanterns  every hour.
Thais are strong believing Buddhists. It would be very disrespectful to enter a temple inappropriately dressed. Neither shorts nor beach wear are acceptable. Before entering a building inside the Wat  shoes should be removed


Each Buddha image, big or small, old or new, is regarded as holy and a respect should be shown. In any case, never climb on a Buddha image in order to take photographs!

Women are not allowed either to hand anything directly to a monk nor to touch them. This needs special attention in overcrowded buses.
Thais are tolerant, reserved and very friendly people.They have a strong yearning for  and the yearning for social harmony and the respect of other peoples feelings.
If anybody shows anger (even if it is really justified) and speaks loudly, it is considered very rude in the eyes of Thai people and you will “lose your face”. It is much more appropriate to stay cool and quiet, to show jai yen – a cool heart – and to have a smile in your face.

The exchange of tenderness between the sexes in public is considered impolite. At most it is politely tolerated for   foreigners. However, to hold hands for men is not unusual. It is a simple gesture of friendship, but not a sign of homosexuality.
If you like to eat in a real Thai restaurant you will have to get accustomed to a few peculiarities, especially in the countryside. To catch the attention of the numerous staff it is sufficient to nod shortly with your head or in more crowded places to wave with your hand, making sure the inside of your hand shows downwards.  Regarding the drinks you ordered, a waitress always makes sure the glasses are filled  and any freshly mixed drinks served quickly. A very convenient custom!
Before entering a private house or an apartment it is customary to take off your shoes.

If you are invited into a Thai house, do not wear black clothes – even when black is the most fashionable color at the moment. While wearing  the “color of death” it could happen that disaster may come into the house – not a nice present indeed! 
Clothes and social status are in close relationship for Thai people. If someone has the financial means, clothes are changed during the day in order not to insult others with dirty or smelly clothes. Neglected or worn out clothes lower your status at first sight. The same rule implies for foreigners as well.

They are only taken seriously when their external appearances correspond with its Thai norm. If someone intends to extend a visa and wears cut jeans and thongs, it will be most likely that the way to the immigration office will be in vain. Proper shoes, a clean pair of trousers and an ironed shirt and respectively a nice dress, skirt or blouse will make everything go smoother when at the office. Girls who are only scantily dressed – according to the motto: let's go shopping in our bikinis – are looked at as “easy girls”. They will be treated in this manner even if they are accompanied by a man. That is why women should not wear see-through blouses or T-shirts when not on the beach.
In the eyes of Thai people the head is the most sacred part of the body, the centre of the spirit and soul. It is extremely impolite to touch somebody on the head, Whether accidentally or on purpose. So be careful in overcrowded buses. Try to avoid any temptation to caress the hair of children, even if they are very cute.
The feet are the less worthy part of the body. For Thais they signify something dirty. It is a serious insult to point this unworthy body part towards another person. Be very aware when sitting with crossed legs – for many people it is the most comfortable way – that the tips of your feet do not point at someone. Do not stop an escaping coin or bank note with your foot. There is a portrait (the head) of the King on both!
Thai people talk to each other using their first names or nicknames, because the family name is much too long and complicated for daily conversation. During a polite exchange the pre-fix kun is used (for example Kun Lek, Kun Jee).
A typical Thai gesture is a wai. The palms of the hands are closed together similar to  praying and the head is slightly bent forward. In general, it is used for greeting (silently or with “sawadee”), however its real significance is much more than that. A wai is always a gesture of respect and esteem, an expression of the complicated hierarchic society. How, when and whom to offer a wai for non-Thais is a complex matter. For those, who like to have a try, here are some tips:
The hands are usually closed at the height of the breast.

The lower you bent the head down, the deeper is the respect expressed. Non-Thais should only bent the head so far until the tip of the nose touches the fingers (for example when greeting monks). The person who is lower in social rank  is offering the wai first, therefore the answer-wai should always be slightly less low.
However, even tourists should refrain from replying to a wai offered from waiters, children or taxi drivers. This would only be ridiculous. A simple friendly smile would be the right reply.
If this is too complicated for you, you can be assured that Thai people are very polite and sympathetic.
In any kind of tricky situations they will quickly help their foreign guests out of the fix by offering a handshake instead.
”Thailand – the land of smiles” A popular slogan of the Thai tourism industry. Thais like to smile  a lot. Moreover, they know over 20 different kinds of smiles. Besides showing joyful emotions they represent an important instrument to maintain social harmony. A smile serves for an excuse when small mishaps occur, such as when sitting in a bus and the lunch of the person behind you falls on you during an emergency stop. The words “thank you” and “you are welcome” are not as often used in Thai language and usually replaced by a smile. 
Conflicts and embarrassing situations are simply treated with a smile and ignorant foreigners can be upset about it.
Sometimes you ask a local person for the right direction and the answer is a slightly forced smile! Either the person did not understand a word because he does not know the spoken language or he simply did not know the answer. That is why he just smiles and so he can save his face. The motto is: do not get angry and just smile back!
Furthermore, smiling keeps you young, beautiful and it is contagious.
Sanuk and mai pen rai are two very important terms of Thai mentality and philosophy. When translated literally their cultural significance is only expressed partially.
“Sanuk” means having fun and it includes the ability of Thai people to enjoy a great deal of fun even in minor happenings. Such as a meal in a good restaurant, to go to the cinema, a party, a meeting with friends but also a visit to the Wat. In most cases work is mai sanuk, what certainly does not need to be translated.

“Mai pen rai” means: it does not matter, it will be arranged, no problem. It is an often used term which excuses small misunderstandings and annoyances. In this way everything is fine and nobody loses face. However, its significance is deeper. It includes the strongly developed and pragmatic bent of Thai people to accept important and unimportant daily happenings as they are.
Mai pen rai – Why get  upset? Its nothing!
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