Thais are tolerant of individualism, but find comfort and
security in being part of a group. Mai Pen Rai (never mind) is the
Thai expression which characterizes the general focus of life - "it
is to enjoy." Thais are productive and hard working while at the
same time happy with what they are and what they have materially.
They are smiling, pleasant, humble and patient people who laugh
easily, speak softly, are slow to anger, and never try to cause
anyone to lose face. Thais are very proud of their cultural heritage
and enjoy talking about it with visitors. Thais are proud that they
have never been ruled by a Western power.
Meeting and Greeting
- When being introduced or greeting someone, men say
Sawatdee-krap and women say Sawatdee-kah.
- Thais greet each other with a "wai." Foreigners are not
expected to initiate the wai gesture, but it is an insult not to
return the wai. If a wai is not offered to you, shake hands with
men and smile and nod to women. A Thai businessperson may shake
hands with a foreigner. Offer a wai only to a person of equal or
greater status. Subordinates should offer a wai first.
- Wai (why) - a person places the palm of his or her hands
together, with their fingers extended at chest level close to
their body and bows slightly. The higher the hands are placed, the
more respect is shown. Subordinates might raise their fingers as
high as their nose. However, the tips of their fingers should
never be above eye level.
- A wai can mean "Hello," "Thank you," "I'm sorry," or
"Goodbye." A wai is not used to greet children, servants, street
vendors or laborers. Never return a wai to a child, waiter, clerk,
etc. Simply nod and smile in response.
- Monks do not return a wai.
- Thais say "Where are you going" rather than "Hello." A polite
response is "Just down the street."
- Introductions are common only in a formal situation. Introduce
yourself by your first name. Feel free to introduce yourself or
ask for someone's name. When introducing your business partner to
an important Thai, mention your partner's name first.
- The inferior or lower-status person is always addressed first
in an introduction. Thus, a child is introduced before its
parents, a secretary is introduced before her boss.
Names and Titles
- Thais address one another by first names and titles and
reserve last names for very formal occasions and written
communications. Last names have been used in Thailand for only the
past fifty years and are difficult even for Thais to pronounce.
Two people with the same last name are almost certainly related.
- Foreigners are often addressed by their given names because it
is easier for Thais; it does not imply familiarity. Thais will
probably call you Mr. Joe or Mrs. Mary.
- Titles, rank and honor are very important. Introductions
require only the given name and title. Mr., Mrs., or Miss + family
name are appropriate for visitors to use in formal situations.
- Thai given names are preceded by Khun (Mr. Mrs. or Miss),
unless they carry a higher degree, such as doctor. Khun is used
for men and women, married or single. If you don't know a person's
name, address them as Khun. Example: Anuwat (Given) +
Wattapongsiri (Family) is Khun Anuwat.
- Correspondence: Use Dear + Khun + given name. Example: Dear
- Nicknames are common in Thailand
- Thailand has a pro-business attitude. Business decisions are
slow. Decisions pass through many levels before being decided
upon. Planning is short-term. Top management is often family. Who
you know is important. Powerful connections are respected.
- First meetings generally produce good humor, many smiles,
polite conversation and few results. The second meeting should
include a meal invitation. Meetings begin with small talk.
Discussing business before becoming acquainted is impolite.
Degrees, especially from prestigious universities, bring status.
Thais may list these on their business card. Thais respect
foreigners with powerful connections.
- Negotiations may be lengthy. Process takes precedence over
content. Slow information flow may delay discussions and
- Thais prefer to work later in the evening rather than early in
the morning. Business is kept separate from work. Family comes
first before business.
- Frankness is not appreciated. Be subtle in responding with a
- Touching between people of the same sex is more common in
Thailand than in many other Asian countries. However, touching
someone of the opposite sex is taboo. Do not show affection in
- Never touch or pass anything over anyone's head. The head is
considered sacred in Thailand and must be respected.
- Never point your feet at anyone or use your feet to move
anything or touch anyone. Feet are regarded as unclean and
symbolically (as well as physically) the lowest part of the body.
- Do not put your hands in your pockets while talking to
someone. Never put your arm over the back of the chair in which
someone is sitting.
- A smile is often used for many different emotions. It may be
an apology, a thank-you, a greeting, or to show embarrassment. Be
aware: A Thai's smiling assurance does not mean you will in fact
get what you want, when you want it. It simply reflects the Thai
appreciation of harmony and their "never mind" attitude.
- Don't wave your hands about as you talk, giving Thais the
impression that you are angry. Never pass anything with your left
hand. Never point with your hand and never, never with one finger.
- Do not cross your legs in the presence of the elderly or
- To beckon someone, extend your arm with the palm of your hand
down and flutter your fingers up and down.
Dining and Entertainment
- To attract a waiter, wave quietly with your palm down or say
"Nong" (brother or sister). Never snap your fingers or raise your
voice to attract a waiter.
- Thai food is eaten with a fork and a tablespoon rather than
with chopsticks. The spoon is held in the right hand and the
bottom of the fork pushes the food into the spoon.
- All Western hotels serve Western and continental cuisine for
- Never drink tap water unless it is boiled. Avoid eating salads
that haven't been washed in purified water. Always peel fruit
- Many Thai dishes are hot and spicy with herbs, lemon grass,
and coriander, but most are not especially aggressive. Food is
always sweet, sour, hot, salty or spicy never bland. Each region
has its own specialties.
- Food may be transferred to your rice bowl, where it can be
mixed with rice. Rice is eaten with almost every meal.
- Leave a small amount of food on your plate when you have
finished eating, to show you are full. Place your spoon and fork
on your plate at the 5:25 position to indicate you are finished
- The host pays the bill. Never offer to split a bill in a
- Thai society is divided into upper and lower classes. At
formal occasions, dress is expected to match one's social station.
Appearance is very important. Wealth is greatly admired.
High-status Thais often overdress, especially considering the hot
- Western clothing is very common. Modest clothing is
recommended. General dress is informal but always neat and clean.
Clothing should be stylish and cool.
- For Businessmen: Pants and shirts (white or colored) with or
without a tie. A light suit or jacket adds status. In the evening,
dark business suits or formal traditional Thai shirts are worn.
Senior executives wear light weight suits to work.
- For Businesswomen: Conservative dresses or skirts and blouses
(not sleeveless). Simple blouses and calf-length loose pants and
long wrap-around or tube skirts are common.
- Gift giving in Thailand is Westernized with less formality
than elsewhere in Asia.
- Bring a small gift for anyone who works for you regularly.
Items such as books, special food items and pens are appropriate.
- Give a gift with your right hand and receive a gift with your
right hand. You should also offer a wai.
- Do not open a gift you've been given unless invited to do so.
Thais generally do not open a gift in front of the giver.
- For the hostess give: Fruit, flowers, cakes, brandy/liquors,
- In business, give Brandy, liquors, American crafts, books and
desk attire are appropriate gifts.
- Show great respect for the royal family. They are highly
respected by most Thais. Stand in respect when the Thai national
anthem is played.
- Step over the threshold, not on it, when going through a
doorway. Thais believe a spirit resides in the threshold.
- Take off your shoes before entering a home, wat or building
which has a Buddha image within.
- Use your right hand only for passing, eating, touching, etc.
- Never touch the head of a Thai or pass an object over it; the
head is considered sacred in Thailand.
- Do not speak in a loud voice. Do not show your temper. Never
criticize anyone publicly.
Especially for Women
- Men conduct most business. However, many traditional
sex-barriers are disappearing. More and more women are holding
executive positions in the workforce.
- Ladies may not enter a bot, the restricted area of a wat
(temple). Never touch a monk, hand him anything or sit next to or
higher than him. When visiting a mosque, cover your body. Wear
slacks, a long skirt, a long sleeved blouse with a buttoned neck,
and a headscarf.
- Traditional Thais believe a woman can lose face if a man
touches her in public.