Thai Culture – An Overview

There are dozens upon dozens of books that take an in depth

look at Thai history and culture. I am not going to try to emulate them here.

What I am going to do is tell you what you need to know to make a comfortable


Show Respect

I was once in a Bangkok bar where a loud American was in a heated discussion with

another foreigner. Referring to Thailand, suddenly he yelled out, “it’s

not a real country anyway”. If this is going to be your attitude, save

yourself a lot of pain and stay home. The Thais are a proud people and rightly

so. While all its neighbors have been colonized at one time or another,

Thailand has remained free. This pride means that while they will respect you,

they are not going to bow down to you. They are proud and confident. If you

treat them with respect, they will do the same. If you act as though you are

superior because you come from a ‘first world’ country, you’re in for a rough


The Concept of Face

Saving face and allowing others to do the same is of the utmost importance.

Because of this, the Thais dread confrontation almost to a fault. Let me give

you an example. A co-worker of my girlfriend was recently visiting. Let’s call

her Ying. My girlfriend went into the bathroom. Realizing she forgot her brush,

she came back out only to find Ying standing there with her wallet in hand. Rather

than immediately raising her voice and asking her what the hell she was doing,

my girlfriend pretended that she didn’t notice. She didn’t want to cause the

thief to lose face. The next day at work, my girlfriend photocopied a number of

500 baht notes and left them out in the open. The notes disappeared, the money

was found in Ying’s purse and she was fired. My girlfriend succeeded in

resolving the situation without directly causing Ying to lose face in front of

her. Yes there was shame in being fired, but it was not the result of a direct

confrontation with my girlfriend. Face is valued above almost all else. Do not

purposely cause a Thai to lose face. They are known to take revenge. If you do

so by accident, smile and apologize.

I will recommend Thai Superstitions

Violence and Revenge

A foreigner can walk down the street of any city in Thailand (apart from the

deep, South which we will touch on later) at any time of day or night and feel

safer than he would in the average American city. This is one of the joys of

living here. However, this does not mean that there is not violence. If you

cross the wrong person; if you purposely start a fight; if you harm someone’s

relative; if you steal someone’s money or property; if you cause someone to

lose face in front of his friends or family; be prepared for revenge. The Thais

are famous for it. And when they snap, they really snap. So avoid putting

yourself in any of the above situations. Be polite. Smile. Don’t raise your

voice. And you will be liked and left alone.

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