Every culture behaves in certain ways that can seem weird and wonderful to the outsider.
By way of exploring Thai culture, in this blog we’re going to be looking at some of the stranger aspects of life in Thailand.
Thailand is a relaxed, warm and welcoming country, but if you scratch beneath the surface you’ll find a culture steeped in ancient beliefs and customs.
As with any culture, Thai culture has roots stretching long into the past, drawing on a collective social memory as to how to behave.
This perhaps explains why Thailand is considered one of the more challenging cultures to work in for foreigners.
According to The Business Culture Complexity Index™, Thailand is the 41st most complex business culture out of the top 50 economies of the world.
Well, lets have a look at some things that might help us explain why.
10 Things About Thai Culture Foreigners May Find Fascinating!
1. The national anthem is played twice a day
Yes! Thais are very collective in their thinking and take group actions seriously. One manifestation of this group orientated culture is the fact that they play the national anthem, “Pheng Chat”, twice a day across the country. At 8am and 6pm every day, in schools, train stations [see pic above], on TV and in parks, people literally stop what they’re doing and stand to listen to the anthem! Foreigners must do the same.
2. People give red Fanta as offerings to spirits
We’re not making this up! Thai culture is heavily shaped by Buddhist beliefs however this comes from an ancient Thai practice of appeasing spirits and ghosts, a kind of animism. Across Thailand you will see small shrines or spirit houses and yes, people love to offer red Fanta. Why? It’s the colour – traditionally Thais would give sweet red things (blood!?) to appease the spirits, so this has carried on but in a more modern, fizzy, sense!
3. A bag of insects makes for a fine snack
It’s true; and it’s not only in Thailand! It’s common across the region for people to pop a fried creepy crawly in their mouth to stop the tummy rumbles. You can find small stalls in markets across Thailand which sell anything from worms to grasshoppers as snacks. Far from being weird, this is normal and Thailand and has been part of the local diet for centuries.
4. People tend to repeat what you say back to you
Literally. Ask someone a question or make a statement and its common for a Thai person to just repeat it back. For foreigners this is very weird and is usually totally misunderstood. You see, Thais are indirect communicators who stress politeness. When they repeat something it means they might not have understood you, that they need time to process it or are looking for your reaction so they know what to say.
5. Girls wear shorts under their dresses
Oh yes! When in Thailand it won’t be long before you spot a group of Thai girls dressed up in lovely skirts and dresses, wearing shorts underneath. It might look weird but this is actually about modesty. Although Thailand has a laid-back reputation, Thais are actually very conservative, so girls wear shorts as an extra layer in case a gust of wind takes their dresses Marilyn Monroe-style!
6. Guys wear two pairs of underwear
The guys are at it too! Or should that be “two”? Yes, it’s common for Thai men to first put on a pair of tight underwear and then to wear a pair of boxer shorts on top of them before they put on their jeans or trousers. As with the girls, this is about modesty and ensuring you can never ever be embarrassed when in public should anything happen (we’ll leave that to you’re imagination!)
7. Driving topless will land you in jail, if you’re a man
Modesty also explains why it’s illegal to drive around without a top on, if you’re a male. Yes, the law doesn’t actually state that it’s illegal for women – but we guess that’s common sense, no? Unfortunately, many a hot and bothered foreigner has fallen foul of this law believing the country’s relaxed attitude to what happens on beaches extends to the rest of Thailand.
8. People wash their feet to freshen up
What freshens you up after a long day at work? Washing your feet of course! Well, this isn’t actually about freshening-up but more about cleanliness. In Thai culture cleanliness is a big deal. So, when people arrive home, they feel they need to remove any dirt from their feet before they spread it all over the house. The feet are also considered the dirtiest part of the body.
9. The head is considered sacred
Never touch someone on the head or even pat kids on the head. This includes touching or feeling the hair. Across the region, the head is considered holy. This even extends to the head of the Buddha on statues. The poster for the movie Hollywood Buddha above caused demonstrations and riots across Buddhist countries including Thailand!
10. Toilet paper isn’t the done thing
Toilet paper isn’t used by many Thais. Instead they clean themselves using water which is either poured out of a plastic pot or comes out of a hose next to the toilet (something known as a ‘bum gun’ by some foreigners!) This isn’t that weird, as billions of people do this every day across the world but it does again highlight the importance of cleanliness in the culture.
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