Meghan Pierce dreams of one day travelling the world with nary a care. Until then she studies anthropology, dabbles in viniculture and freelances for GAdventures.
The thing I love most about travelling is observing how other people around the world go about their day to day lives and their customs. If you want to be able to participate, it is essential to learn the etiquette of any place that you go to visit. Not understanding and demonstrating proper etiquette can be considered rude and can also get you into serious trouble. While some cultures are very similar, others, such as traditional Thai culture, are very different.
The Way of the Wai
The wai is a traditional Thai greeting as well as a sign of respect. Join your palms together with your fingers pointed upwards (in a sort of prayer position) and hold them somewhere between your chest and your forehead. How high up you hold your hands and how close your thumbs and forehead come to one another, reflects the level of courtesy or respect you show to someone. With your hands in this position, slightly bow your head forward.
The wai can be done while sitting, standing, and even walking. It should be initiated first by the person who is of junior status and should always be returned unless there is a large difference in social status (i.e. the king or a monk). You might feel silly at first but it is such a common thing to do in Thailand that you will become used to it rather quickly.
The food in Thailand is absolutely delicious but there is a specific way it should be enjoyed. You hold your spoon in your right hand and your fork in your left. Use your fork to kind of rake your food onto your spoon before shovelling it into your mouth. Your fork is never actually supposed to go in your mouth which is really weird to get used to. Chopsticks are occasionally used for noodle dishes and things like that. Since I’m one of those people who can’t eat without making a mess, regardless of the utensils I use, this was a problem for me. I highly recommend practicing eating this way before you actually go to Thailand. It will save you a lot of embarrassment.
Right Hands Only
This is bad news for those of you who are left handed but you should only use your right hand when passing objects to another person and this includes currency. The reason for this is because left hands are considered “dirty” because they are sometimes used to wipe after using the bathroom.
Keep Your Cool
Many of the customs in Thailand are derived from Buddhist beliefs and strong displays of emotion are frowned upon. Shouting, fighting, openly criticizing someone, and violence are heavily frowned upon. Keep your cool even when things don’t go as planned while in Thailand (although that’s pretty sound advice regardless of where you travel).
The head is considered to be the most sacred part of the body. For this reason you should avoid touching anyone else’s head. This includes touching someone’s hair even if it is a small child.
Pointing at someone is also considered to be very rude in Thailand. Instead of pointing at someone using your finger, motion towards them with your chin. If you want to beckon someone in your direction, extend your arm out with your palm facing down and flutter your fingers up and down.
Of course, there are a lot of other aspects of Thai culture that you may want to familiarize yourself with before visiting. The more prepared you are, the more you will be able to fully immerse yourself in Thai culture.
Editors Note: This is a guest post by Meghan Pierce. Read more at GLoop the blog, where you can also see the very interesting results of G Adventures 2013 Happiness Survey. K