Dos and Don'ts

Head and Feet: “The top of everything is venerated—the head of a person, boss of a company, bow of a boat—while the bottom is lowly. Never touch someone's head. Always keep your feet lower than the trunk of your body, never point them (your feet) at another person or use the feet to move anything, and always take your shoes off indoors.”

Shake or Wai: “While modern Thais, particularly men, are happy to shake hands on meeting a Westerner, most prefer the traditional wai, a prayer-like gesture with palms pressed together. Initiated by the social ‘junior,’ it is part of the Thai cultural reluctance to commit, as touching conveys a much deeper commitment. If you're unsure, just repeat what the Thais do or just nod and smile.”

Face: "Face comes before everything. Making someone lose face actually makes you lose face, so try to avoid this situation. Face is more than pride or ego, it is the lubricant for the hierarchy that operates at every social level in Thailand. Break it and you harm your relations with everyone present. So never lose your temper.”

Indirect Criticism: “Thais prefer to be indirect in everything they do, and this is the best way to get something done. For example, if you have a problem in your hotel, smile creatively when raising the issue rather than criticize directly. Laughter helps, too; it might not be funny but a laugh is much more likely to help you get results.”

The King: “Thais revere their monarch, flag, religion, and national reputation. Western-style criticism of these is socially unacceptable, and criticizing royalty remains punishable by jail.”

Dressing for Success: “Thailand might have a reputation for lurid nightlife, but most Thais frown upon revealing clothing, public displays of affection, and overt sexuality. Clean, smart-casual attire eases almost every situation.”

Eating: "Thais usually eat together and share the dishes and drinks available. Plates of food are communal, but you should use communal cutlery when serving, not your own.”

Phrase Book

Many Thai statements and questions differ slightly depending on whether it is a male or female stating/asking.

Sawasdee kraap/kaa: Hello (male/female). Pronounced sa-wat-dee KHAAP/KAA

Khop khun kraap/kaa: Thank you for (male/female). Pronounced kawp kun KHAAP/KAAR

Pom/chan cheu: My name is (male/female). Pronounced pom/chaan chewer

Khun cheu aria, kraap/kaa?: What is your name (male/female)? Pronounced kun a-raye

Mai pen rai: Never mind, no problem. Pronounced my pen rye

Pom/Chan mai khao jai: I don’t understand (male/female). Pronounced pom/chan my cow jie (rhymes with “tie”)

Yoo teenai?: Where is? Pronounced you tee-nai

Tao rai kraap/kaa?: How much (male/female)? Pronounced tow (rhymes with “how”) rye KHAAP/KAA

Lod raakha dai mai, kraap/kaa?: Can you discount (male/female)? Pronounced lod raa-kaa die my, KHAAP/KAA

Chek bin kraap/kaa: The bill, please (male/female). Pronounced check bin, KHAAP/KAA

Pom/chan tahn ahan jair: I am a vegetarian (male/female). Pronounced pom/di-chan tahn ahahn jair

Aroi!: Delicious! Pronounced a-roy

Thanon: A street. Pronounced ta-non

Soi: A small street. Pronounced soy

Farang: Any foreigner of European descent. Pronounced fa-rang with a slightly trilled “r”

BTS: Bangkok’s monorail, known to most farang as the Skytrain but to locals as the BTS


About Bangkok and Thailand

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