Thais are proud of their rich culture, and rightly so. It’s a mixture of easy going Buddhism with strong roots in familial obligations yet is never imposing to the outsider. This is one of the reasons why Thailand is so attractive to foreigners. Thais, you’ll soon notice, are easy going people. One of the central beliefs in Thai culture is the importance in having fun: Sanuk. No wonder then that Thailand has long been called “The Land of Smiles.” Tellingly, one of the worst comments one could possibly make about a work mate, a boss or anyone for that matter in Thailand is: “He’s such a serious person.” A smile, therefore, goes a long way in this country.
Thais have different taboos from the west. For example: Visitors should not touch Thai people’s heads, it being the highest part of the body. Contrariwise the feet, being the lowest part, are not to be raised above, or pointed at objects or people. Open anger and extreme emotion is also frowned upon. A favourite Thai expression in times of stress is: “Jai yen, jai yen.” Meaning: “Keep a cool head/heart – don’t lose face by losing your temper.” Elders should always be treated with extreme respect. The wai a closed palm greeting should be used when greeting elder people or anyone in a position of authority. Simply close palms, prayer-like and place them, fingers-upward, under your chin. A slight bow at the same time will do wonders. Do not wai people of a lower social bracket than yourself. It will only confuse and muddle things. If a waitress, a hotel clerk or a child wais to you, simply smile and nod back. Despite the complexity of correct social behaviour in Thailand the visitor is readily forgiven for his/her gaffes. It’s all part of that famous Thai hopitality.