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The Story of Lek, a Bar Girl in Pattaya
'Daddy's Hobby'

Manners and Table Etiquette in Thailand

We have all heard and I assume that most of us believe that 'Manners Maketh Man' (and woman). It is a cause of complaint all over the world, and probably always has been, that people are becoming less and less polite.

Manners and Table Etiquette in Thailand

Manners and Table Etiquette in Thailand

However, what is considered polite in one country, may be considered rude in another or, what is even more likely, what is not even taken notice of in some countries, is considered very bad manners in others.

There are many web sites on that list the important differences in manners, but in this article, I want to concentrate on what Thais consider good and bad manners.

To begin with, rude and aggressive behaviour is very bad manners in Thailand, more so than it is in the West, where it has become almost the acceptable norm. Thais consider that there is never any excuse for rudeness under any circumstances - even for example if someone is trying to cheat you.

Domestic arguments must therefore also be held in camera - at home - and quietly. It is not that Thais don't argue, it is that they don't wash their dirty linen in public. Much like it used to be in many Western countries 50-60 years ago.

Showing the soles of your feet to someone on purpose is a very big insult and should not be underrated. It is such a bad insult that you should try hard not to point the soles of your feet at anyone at any time even by accident. If it is unavoidable, at least try to smile an apology.

Pointing is very rude too, as it is in the West, but staring is not, whereas Westerners consider it rude to stare.

Normally, Thais eat from communal plates, so picking up any item of food from these plates with your bare hands is considered bad dining etiquette, although you may use your personal spoon and fork in the company of friends and family. At more formal occasions you should only serve yourself or others using the communal serving spoon and fork.

Thais do not 'load' their plates with more than they can eat in a minute or two. It is not good table manners to pile your plate up with food as we would do at a Western buffet. This leads some Westerners to believe that it is all right to eat straight from the communal dishes, but nothing could be further from the truth.

In polite society, even if you only want to taste a dish, you should just take a small amount of Thai food onto your own plate first even if it is only for a few seconds or you will be thought of as having table manners in Thailand.

Likewise when washing your hands from a pitcher or urn. Do not contaminate all the water by washing your hands in it even if the receptacle is in the garden. It is better to scoop or pour some water into a bowl and wash in that, before discarding it and returning the bowl to its place.

Shoes must not be worn in a house or church (Wat) and you should always eat all your rice, especially if you take more meat or vegetables.

One last thing, Thais are obsessed with status. They have ways of working out someone's status, which is harder if you do not speak Thai. However, age confers status, so you should respect age and one way of doing this is not to stand taller than an older person as you walk past. This is not always easy, but bowing the head a little is a good enough gesture.

by Owen Jones



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