What is a general Buddhist greeting

Rules of conduct and greeting

Rules of conduct for Farangs (western foreigners) in Thailand

Basic information on dealing with Thai people

For us western visitors it is almost impossible to behave correctly in Thailand. Since Thais are extremely polite people and also know that it is very difficult for non-Thais to use their own behavior correctly, the Farangs certainly showed tolerance. Many of our "mistakes" are forgiven, but we should always make sure to adhere to our western rules of courtesy in Thailand - so almost all "faux pas" can be avoided. Should it happen, a smile is often enough to excuse the faux pas.

However, anyone who "misbehaves" over a longer period of time must expect to be declared an undesirable person (s) ...

In any case, everything should be avoided that could cause the other person to lose face! So you shouldn't embarrass anyone in front of others or criticize them too severely. You may risk later acts of revenge by the exposed person. This should be avoided especially with drunk people - provoking drunk Thai men with improper behavior can be very dangerous!


Greetings in Thailand

Since the manners of the Thais among each other are very difficult for us Westerners to understand (see below ’Welcome to Thailand - The Wai’), I would like to point out that the Wai should rather be avoided, as it can put the other person in distress if used incorrectly - otherwise: If you know the "rules", you can apply it!

It is only appropriate for Thai monks, here it is used, as also described in more detail below, but is not reciprocated by the monks.

Basically, the wai of Farangs not expected. Above all, the Thai is forced to answer with a wai as well, even though he might just want to start a handshake. A greeting with a smile and / or possibly a handshake is therefore completely sufficient.

If you are greeted with a wai yourself, you should answer in the same way, say with the same thumb height or with a slightly lower wai. Exceptions would be people who clearly have a higher social status, here the Wai should be set higher.

A smile and a nod of the head are sufficient as a reaction to people and children who are clearly lower class!


Dealing with Thai monks

Thai monks are usually very open and secular, not infrequently you see them, for example, smoking in public. It can also happen that men are spoken to by monks.

Women are not allowed to touch monks or their robes, whether in a Thai temple or outside - otherwise the monks have to undergo a laborious cleansing ritual.
If women want to give something to a monk, they either have to put it on the floor or give it to a man beforehand, who then hands it over to the monk.


In Thai temples

Before entering a Thai temple, you should take off your shoes. Correct behavior and appropriate clothing is also a basic requirement for visiting a temple in Thailand. Bathing shoes, shorts and sleeveless shirts are indispensable!
When sitting in Thai temples, the legs are never stretched out, it is best to sit on your knees.

Visiting Thai people

When entering private apartments, as in Thai temples, shoes should also be removed. In addition, one should avoid stepping on the doorstep, since according to Thai belief the souls of the deceased live there.

In Thai houses it is common to sit on the floor with your feet NOT stretched out: in Thailand it is considered a great insult to point your feet at someone else!
Men usually sit cross-legged, women with their legs bent and pointing backwards. When men take up this sitting posture, it shows special respect for the host.

Gifts do not have to be brought with you, but small gifts such as fruit, food or souvenirs are welcome. If gifts are given, they are usually not opened immediately, on the one hand not to embarrass the guest and on the other hand to avoid appearing greedy themselves.

If you are invited to parties or celebrations, the cloakroom should be adapted to the circumstances. Thai acquaintances can often give tips, because the host will always answer that this is up to you. But taking this too literally can lead to embarrassment.

At weddings or funerals, an envelope with money should be presented to help reduce costs. Here, too, friends can give tips on the total.


In Thai restaurants

When going to a restaurant together, it is customary for the person with the highest social status to take over the bill for all those present or to assign another person to do so. It can also happen that people are asked about earnings if Thais cannot assess our status. Since we usually have a higher income - which in turn suggests good karma - nobody will mind if the bill dated Farang is adopted 🙂

Generosity is also generally welcomed, so that “pushing ahead” is welcomed when paying.
If you invite to dinner yourself, it can happen that the invited person brings someone along without announcing this. But since in Thailand bowls and pans are taken from everyone on the table anyway, this does not play a major role. If an invited person does not show up, this is often because the embarrassing situation of a cancellation is avoided.

Tips are usually not given, only particularly good service can be rewarded with an additional amount (max. 5% of the invoice amount).


On the beach in Thailand

You should also wear appropriate clothing when sunbathing on the beach!

Thais tend to be prudish when it comes to nudity compared to us westerners. Thais, mainly women, are almost always fully clothed on the beach - see picture on the left. If you watch Thai people, especially women, bathing, you can see that they often step into the water wearing shirts and trousers.

String thongs are frowned upon by both women and men!
Swimming trunks that cover the man's bottom are sufficient.

Women should definitely not lie around topless or even completely naked!
Because of this extremely disrespectful behavior, they quickly lose face, which in turn means that they will no longer be respected there during their stay in Thailand ...

If you visit the beach restaurant in between, a bath towel or sarong should be wrapped around your hips.


What to Avoid in Thailand

  • Basically you should never touch the head of a Thai, this also applies to children. According to Thai belief, the head is the seat of the soul and spirit. If you accidentally touch it, you should politely apologize!
  • The feet are considered unclean in Thailand, so you should not sit on the floor with your legs outstretched, as this could point your feet at other people.
  • In Thailand one should never point with the index finger at people, but rather point with the chin in the appropriate direction.
  • Basically neither the king, the royal family nor the religion should be criticized! Disregard can lead to no small prison terms.
    Also, banknotes must not be deliberately stepped on, as the likeness of the king is depicted on all of them.
  • Direct criticism of the Thai counterpart should also be avoided, as they could easily lose face. On the other hand, flatteries and compliments are very popular with Thais.
  • If you eat with your hand, always use the right one: The left one is considered unclean as it is often used for cleaning after using the toilet.
  • Objects, money, etc. should also be handed over or accepted with the right hand.
  • Kissing or other caresses between men and women in public are absolutely taboo!
    Even just touching the opposite sex should be avoided as much as possible. Thai women who are masculine Farangs touch in public, end up in the appropriate drawer very quickly ...
    However, contact between people of the same sex is tolerated; among good friends of the same sex it is quite possible that they walk around hand in hand.
    But since the western influence is getting bigger and bigger in Thailand, you can often see young couples walking around holding hands in Bangkok and other larger cities. Couples also enjoy subtle physical contact in public when they are on vacation, as they are anonymous.
  • Women should always wear a bra in Thailand!

What you earn plus points in Thailand

  • When moving through seated people, you should bend your upper body a little forward and hold one hand slightly forward. This is to make yourself appear smaller.
  • If you are in a public square at 8:00 a.m. or 6:00 p.m. in the evening, you should also get up while playing the Thai national anthem.
  • In appropriate situations, one can underline one's politeness by touching the elbow of the right, handing or receiving arm from below when handing over or receiving objects. However, this does not apply when paying in restaurants, in the supermarket or in similar situations.
  • If you want to beckon someone in Thailand, the palm of the hand points down, the fingers are only moved slightly up and down, and the arm is not held up excessively. Even on the busy streets of Bangkok, this is enough to get a tuk-tuk or taxi driver to stop. Wild "waving around" should definitely be avoided!

The Wai - traditional greeting in Thailand

Although the handshake has now established itself in Thai business and government circles, the traditional greeting in Thailand is still the wai. Handling a "real" orphan is for us Farangs not easy to understand as it depends on the relationship between people. The wai is to be understood as an extremely important sign of mutual respect.
Normally, the palms of the hands are held against each other at chest height with outstretched fingers, the thumbs pointing towards the body. In addition, one bows slightly. The younger or the one who has the lower social status always greets first, the older or higher one answers with a lower wai: The palms are held a little lower in front of the chest than the younger / lower one does.

The height of the palms of the hands is the decisive criterion for the respect that is shown to the counterpart: the higher, the more respect is shown!
No Thai will use a wai to greet children, domestic workers or beggars to greet them or say goodbye.
The thumbs over the eyebrows are only held towards members of the royal family, monks or as a tribute to Buddha. If tall people are welcomed, the fingertips can be held between the eyebrows, the thumbs can touch the tip of the nose.

The following rules can be stated:

  • Opposite people who are lower: thumb about chest height.
  • To equals: thumb about chin height.
  • In relation to the higher-ups and the elderly: thumb at the level of the lower lip.
  • Opposite those who are very high: thumb at the tip of the nose.
  • Compared to monks (and members of the royal family, who you will not come across even on a longer visit to Thailand 🙂): thumbs at or above the eyebrows.

The same applies to the accompanying bows: the deeper, the greater the respect for the other person. A wai is always returned unless there is a very large social or age difference between the two people. Then the superior or the elder leaves the wai unrequited.
Also, Buddhist monks (and of course members of the royal family) generally do not reciprocate the wai!
In addition to a greeting, the wai can also be used as a thank you, goodbye or an apology.

Sources: U.a. Microsoft Encarta World Atlas 2001, Data Becker Lexicon 2002, Wikipedia, Kauderwelsch Volume 19 - "Thai word for word" by Martin Luttherjohann.

(All statements without guarantee)