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Updated by Joanna James on Mar 16, 2024
Headline for 07 Things you should know about Thai culture – Cultural norms that shape Thai life
Joanna James Joanna James
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07 Things you should know about Thai culture – Cultural norms that shape Thai life

You will notice a lot of things you are not used to when travelling in Thailand. The way locals greet, apologise and say farewell might be different from what you know to be normal.


Family matters

To Thai people, their family is the most important thing. You rarely see small families, almost every family is extended, and a person usually has a number of brothers and sisters; they are not necessarily their siblings but cousins: Thai people consider their cousins to be their own brothers and sisters, and there's no word for cousin in the Thai language. Family members live close to each other, and they maintain strong bonds. They usually help each other; help can come in the form of money or by way of doing chores. Younger members are expected to take care of the elderly.



Social status is an important aspect of Thai culture. This is not something you notice immediately, but status is an inherent part of Thai culture. The status is usually determined upon one's job type, age, family connections, education and the income level. Unlike in some other cultures, one's status isn't something that's fixed; it can change according to the individual's circumstances. If you are meeting with your business partners at a 5 star Bangkok hotel, you will notice that the person with higher social status is the one who offers wai first. Having an understanding of one's status is important if you intend to choose the likes of Emporium Suites by Chatrium.


The theory of saving face and showing respect

Thais are a subtle race; they don't like to lose face whatever happens. You don't find direct speech in Thailand as they consider it to be offensive. You are supposed to show respect and be courteous at all times. When visiting a Thai home, make sure you take a small gift, and leave your shoes outside before entering. Do not ever yell at somebody in public or raise your voice; it is considered extremely disrespectful. If you are to succeed in socialising or doing business in Thailand, make sure you never disrespect the other party or cause them to lose face.


A smile can mean different things

Thailand is called the Land of Smiles, but a smile isn't always a cordial gesture. Some locals can smile at you to hide their irritation; this is to say that a smile doesn't always convey happiness. However, in general, Thai people are very welcoming and friendly.


Yes doesn't always mean yes

Like mentioned earlier, Thais aren't direct in their speech, they tend to hide their true feelings. Thais don't say no to your face, but if they do, you can be sure that it conveys their strong dislike at something. Confusingly, even if they say yes to something, it doesn't necessarily mean yes. Thai people don't like to offend people, so, they might say yes to something they don't agree with. When in Thailand, you need to be a little tactful when it comes to getting to the bottom of something.



The main religion in Thailand is Theravada Buddhism. However, Thailand is different from other Buddhist nations. Religion in Thailand has been influenced by outside elements. Thai Buddhism is infused with Chinese believes and Hindu practices. You will notice that locals carry talismans despite the fact that Buddhism doesn't encourage materialism.


Monks are revered

In Thai culture, monks reserve a significant place, and you should never disrespect a monk. Monks are an integral part of Thai life, and they are highly respected. If you happen to use public transport, you will see that there are designated seats for monks. If all the seats are occupied, the locals always offer their seats. If you are a female, make sure you don't sit next to a monk.