Before the coup in there were many years of fierce political division and instability. Political protests often turned violent, with shootings, arson, and bombings taking place. The situation has been much more calm in the past few years, but certain sectors of the population still strongly side with one group or another. The one time that you will be expected to show respect for the monarchy is when you go to the cinema.
The royal anthem is played before each screening, and all members of the audience are supposed to stand. Not standing could possibly get you in a lot of trouble.
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Another thing to be aware of is that all Thai currency contains the image of the previous king. As such, any action that involves defacing or damaging Thai currency would be considered an insult to the monarchy. It can be used at all times of the day when greeting someone. A polite particle is attached to the end of the phrase according to the gender of the speaker.
A Thai greeting is often accompanied by a gesture called a wai. The hands are pressed together and held below the chin while bowing the head slightly. To show a greater level of respect, the hands can be held higher, with the fingers sometimes touching the nose or forehead. The proper protocol when two people meet is that the one who is younger or with lower status is supposed to wai first.
The second person can then wai back, but they may not depending on the circumstance. Many foreigners make the mistake of wai -ing too much.
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Service personnel such as airline hostesses, waitresses, and hotel doormen all wai to customers as part of their job duty. Wai -ing to them makes you look silly and probably makes them feel uncomfortable. Family ties are very important to Thai people. The tendency in the West to set out as an individual is quite alien to their culture.
The oldest sibling often has the double responsibility of helping out their parents while also sending their younger siblings to school. Extended families can be very large. If you go to visit a Thai village, almost everyone will seem to be a relative of some sort. Seniority and status play a large role in Thai life.
As mentioned above, when two people greet each other the one who is younger or has lower social status should greet the older one first. Relative age to one another is indicated in speech through relationship terms. These terms are used not only with actual brothers and sisters, but also friends, acquaintances, and even when talking about celebrities.
As with the terms phii and nong, there is no need to be physically related to the person. Thai society can be very segregated by social status. If somebody has the right family name or right connections they may receive very lenient punishments when breaking the law. One common example of this is when giving out criticism.
Instead, the boss should talk to the employee in private. Basically, you should try to avoid signaling someone out in a way that could be embarrassing for them. Another aspect of face is making a show of wealth and status. Somebody who is well off will gain face by picking up the tab for a large diner party.
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When making a large donation to a temple, a Thai person would not do so anonymously. They want everyone to see how much they are giving in order to gain face in the community. During a temple fair, there might be a parade that includes donors each carrying their tree to the temple. Onlookers can easily see from the color of the bills what denomination they are and get some idea of how much is being donated by that individual.
As an unfortunate result of face, Thai citizens have one of the largest ratios of household debt to GDP. The mai pen rai attitude can spill over into many aspects of Thai culture. Sometimes this is a very good thing. It encourages you to not get bent out of shape over minor incidents and disappointments in life. Punctuality is not so important. Losing your cool and throwing a temper tantrum in public is not acceptable. On the other hand, sometimes this mai pen rai attitude leads to complacency.
There can be an unwillingness to change things that need to be changed. Thai people will judge you by your appearance. Much of this comes down to your personal grooming habits and how you dress. For example, Thailand is a popular destination for young backpackers, and backpackers have a reputation for not washing frequently enough and trying to get everything for as cheap as possible.
Thais have a phrase farang khii-nok which is used to refer to a poor, grubby, and undesirable cheapskate foreigner. Thais usually think that all foreigners have lots of money, so a farang khii-nok is a bit of a mystery to them. In general, a shirt with a collar looks more proper than one without, long pants look more proper than shorts, and regular shoes look more proper than sandals.
Thailand is a tropical country, but some foreigners seem to think the entire country is one giant beach. It makes you look like a clueless lowlife. Actually, you may be surprised at how Thais tend to dress when they are at the beach. Bikinis are starting to become more common, but the majority of Thais stay very covered up.
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Partially this is due to modesty, but the other main reason for covering up is to protect their skin from getting any darker. Thai people, despite their naturally tan skin, have a preference for light skin. Most of the actors and actresses on TV are either Thai-Chinese or half-Western luk-khrueng with relatively light skin. The end result that the entire scene can have an angelic glow, with shadows completely washed out. Many Thai women will avoid the sun at all costs. The one place that you do often see facial hair is on TV villains.
Tattoos, on the other hand, are not uncommon.
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There is a long tradition of protective magic tattoos sak-yan ,and many older men have these. Done properly, the person getting the magic tattoo would have to follow some rules to keep the magic active. Even with this tradition of spiritual tattoos, many Thais would find a tattoo of the Buddha to be disrespectful. This is especially true if it were located below the waist, such as on your leg. Thais take personal hygiene very seriously. The most important time of day to bathe for Thai people is before going to bed.
They want to feel clean and free of sweat as they go to sleep. Bath tubs are very uncommon, and the shower may not be divided from the rest of the bathroom, so the floor will get wet. The traditional method of bathing is to scoop water up from a large basin and pour it over your body. If you stay in a rustic village home you might still see this in use. One example would be asking you your age. Despite the probing nature of these questions, Thais are not trying to be rude.
They may just genuinely be curious about you or trying to make small talk. Though they also may be trying to learn where to put you in the social hierarchy.
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This is especially true when asking your age. Thais rarely use their actual names in daily life. Nicknames are given by parents when the child is born. Thai nicknames are typically short—one or two syllables. Traditional gender roles predominate in Thai society. Female students wear skirts and blouses, while male students wear a shirt and slacks. The same is true for many in the working world.