Thailand is a country with some strict rules and regulations, not only when it comes to obeying the law, but also when it comes to the norms, values, and traditions within Thai families. Religion is a big part of that. The religion that is practised most in Thailand, is Buddhism. Having criticism on this religion has bad effects. So, make sure you won’t. Moreover, we are going into depth about the social etiquettes such as Thai cuisine, greeting manners and communication styles. Furthermore, within the Thai business culture there are also quite a few norms and considerations to obey by to show your appreciation for the company or the person hosting. When considering the Thai traditions, one can state that many of those are related to Buddhism. Visakha Bucha, is one of those days that Lord Buddha is commemorated. Lastly, we will show some experiences of people who have been in Thailand, since we did not have the opportunity due to COVID-19.
Thai Culture & Society
When considering the culture of Thailand, religion is a big part of that. Buddhism in Thailand is the largest and most practiced religion, around 93,6 percent of the people are Buddhist, 4,9 percent identify themselves as Muslim; 1,2 percent is Christian, and 0,3 percent believes in other religions or no religion at all (Cultural Atlas, sd). Going more into depth about Buddhism, the type of Buddhism that is practised most, is Theravada Buddhism, which means ‘’he doctrine of the elders” (BBC, 2002). According to the BBC (2002) “This school of Buddhism believes that it has remained closest to the original teachings of the Buddha”.
Apart from the fact that Buddhism is the most practised religion in Thailand, there is a law that states that Thai people are not allowed to have criticism on that law. In case it does happen, these people can expect a fine up to 620 dollar, a one-year prison sentence, or even both (United States Department of State, 2018).
This religion in is imbedded with the way Thai people live, since they are incorporated into their daily routines. These routines include things, like praying to Lord Buddha every day, starting the morning with offering food to the monks at the temples to honour them for keeping Lord Buddha’s teachings alive (Dr. Kuppako, 2018). Certainly, in families that have strong believes in Buddhism, it is the norm to do these things.
Something that is also very important in the Thai society, is that you should be loyal to the people around, certainly to your parents and grandparents. Furthermore, this concept emphasizes on the fact that Thai people find it more important to be part of the group than being different (International Business Research, 2012)
Something that is also important for the Thai society, is to celebrate and commemorate special people and moments. Certainly, on days on which Lord Buddha is commemorated. These are types of traditions that happen annually. We are going more into depth about those traditions, later on in this blog.
Naming conventions – First, we have a look at naming conventions. Thai people often have long surnames, which makes it for people from other countries sometimes hard to pronounce correctly, therefore it is usual in Thailand to refer to people’s first name (Cultural Atlas, sd). Moreover, many Thai people have nicknames. We as students of an international study have experienced this as well. Sometimes there is a complete different name on the name list, this is due to the fact that Thai people take into account that it is difficult e.g. for European people to pronounce and therefore they have often a completely different second name (Cultural Atlas, sd). We believe this is a polite gesture from Thai people, do you agree?
Greetings – Another interesting aspect is that Thai people use ‘Wai’ (pronounced as ‘why’) to greet people. It is a polite way to say: hello, thank you, I’m sorry or goodbye. If you see the picture below, you can see what the ‘Wai’ exactly is, it is comparable with the sign of praying. Please keep in mind that this is not the way to greet children (Cultural Atlas, sd).
Visiting a home – If you visit someone’s home, it is useable that you remove your shoes. The Thai culture is a quite laid-back culture, but they value cleanliness. Also, it is not polite to criticise the king of Thailand because he is really appreciated, and if you insult the king you can get a jail sentence. Please keep that in mind when you are visiting Thailand, because you don’t want to end in jail, especially not in Thailand (Samujana, sd).
Social norm – In Thailand it is normal that people live with many generations in one place. For example, the grandparents, parents and children are living in the same house. This is since you always have to take care of your parents, especially when they get old. This is logical because the Thai culture is showing respect to someone who is older or has a higher status because they have done a lot for them already for many years.
Gifting – Giving gifts to someone in mostly done in an informal way, and in Thailand giving a gift shows a gesture of friendship and appreciation. Occasions to bring a gift, are for example at New Year’s Eve, birthdays, Valentine’s day, and at weddings. What is interesting, is the fact that at weddings Thai people give money instead of other presents, like flowers, chocolate, or a fruit basket to the groom and bride. Furthermore, in Thailand it is not polite to open a gift in front of the giver, this is something you must do in private. Moreover, expensive gifts are not appreciated because it can make a person feel uncomfortable. To compare the Thai culture with the Western culture, the most interesting fact is that in Thailand it is normal to bring a gift when you have a business appointment, this is a way to promote your business and it’s definitely not seen as an insult; it is polite in Thailand. So, for all of you, please remember this if you ever have to do business with Thai people. This is another tip to make your stay in Thailand more pleasant (Stenden Thailand, 2020).
Food – Thai cuisine is different per region, the food in the north of Thailand is different than from the south, northeast or the centre of Thailand.
The food in the north of Thailand is seen as unique. They eat many different vegetables because in the north there is a colder climate, which creates a perfect environment to grow different vegetables. They barely eat any fish, and are eating mostly chicken and pork in combination with the vegetables they made by themselves.
The north-eastern food, or in other words ‘Isaan food’ is healthier food compared to the north of Thailand. They also don’t eat a lot of fish. Another fact is, that the northeast is the least visited region by tourists.
The central food is more a combination of the different areas. The food mostly tastes less spicy compared to the other regions in Thailand. Known dishes from the central, are for example Massaman curry or the spicy salad. Food sharing is important in the centre of Thailand, for instance if you have dinner with your family in a restaurant, everyone is sharing instead of keeping the dish they ordered for themselves.
The food in the south is a bit comparable with the Malaysian or Indonesian food. It is spicy and believe it or not, this food is even spicy for Thai people as well. In the south the people are eating a lot of fish because it is next to the sea. Furthermore, pineapple and coconuts are the important ingredients in their cuisine.
Because we are not in Thailand at the moment and unfortunately, we couldn’t experience all the food, we still like to share one amazing recipe from Thailand, which is a typical Pad Thai (see picture above). And, yes of course, we only share this because we made and tasted it by ourselves (Stenden Thailand, 2020).
Below you find an explanation of how to make a typical Pad Thai:
Business protocol & working culture
When considering the social norms when going to work and how to act while working, there are some protocols in Thailand. Like all around the world, men should always dress formal in a dark suit, and women in a dark suit or dress. Furthermore, Thai people judge each other a lot on their clothing, so you should always make sure that everything is nice and clean, certainly the shoes.
Titles, ranks, and orders within the Thai working culture are seen as important. When introducing, only the given name is needed plus the title. When you are a visitor and you are in a formal situation it is appropriate to say Mr., Mrs., or Miss plus the family name (e Diplomat, 2016).
When considering communication within in the Thai working culture, important topics are always started by the person with the most authority. During such a talk, interrupting the one speaking, can be seen as very impolite (Cultural Atlas, sd). Furthermore, we have the Sanuk attitude in Thailand, which is a positive attitude that states that people should seek for happiness in everything they do when working (Cultural Atlas, sd). While working, this often leads to an informal working place in which Thai people also talk about their personal lives, instead of only talking about work related topics (Cultural Atlas, sd). This often leads to less punctuality when it comes to work.
When considering the different generations in the Thai business culture, we can state that the younger generation is more likely to use Western concepts, whereas the older generations is very conservative and doesn’t want to change a lot to the system. These Western concepts, include things like improving your employees, becoming more professional, etc. (International Business Research, 2012). When considering the conservative older generation, more authority is used within businesses. When a person works a long time for certain company, he or she will get recognition for that. This, by getting the ‘Tan’ status, which means that everyone has to obey to this person (International Business Research, 2012). Often this is hard for the younger generation, and in general for men, to cope with. Women can deal better with this kind of people (International Business Research, 2012).
Another common concept that is embedded in the Thai working culture, is “Jong Tum Dee ta Ya Den Ja Pen Pai”. This means “Do the best thing, but do not stand out, because it will bring harm to you” (International Business Research, 2012). This states, that you should be part of the group, and that being outstanding can lead to a bad reputation during your working career. This, not only in the working environment, but as mentioned before, also in the normal everyday life. Remember, reputation is everything in Asian cultures, and certainly in Thailand.
In Thailand there are quite some holidays on which things and persons are celebrated. Most of the times is because people commemorate religious figures and happenings. When being a Buddhist, like many religions, there are many days to celebrate. Firstly, like every country, the new year is celebrated. To make a clear overview of these traditions, we can divide the important celebration days in two types, the Buddhist holidays and the traditional holidays (Trazy Blog, 2020). A few of each category will be explained. When considering the Buddhist holidays, we have Makha Bucha Day, Visakha Bucha Day, and Asalha Bucha Day. The traditional holidays include, Songkran Day, the king’s birthday, the queen’s birthday (mother’s day), the late King Bhumibol’s Birthday (father’s day). We could see both categories as tradition, since they are happening every year.
To give you a better understanding of all these holidays, a short description is given. The king’s birthday, mother’s day, and father’s day, are days that are also common in the Western world. Songkran day is a typical traditional Thai holiday. On this day the Thai people celebrate the Lanna New Year, which is the most important of all the Lanna festivals. The festivals always take place for three days. On each of these days, a special event is happening (Cochrane, 2008). They are called ‘Wan Sungkan Long’, which means the passing of the year; ‘Wan Nao’, between the old and new year; and ‘Wan Thaloeng Sok’, which means ‘beginning of the year’, also called Wan Phaya Wan, which means ‘the most important day of the year’ (Cochrane, 2008). This holiday carries a religious and a non-religious (secular) significance. This, because the festival originated from the Buddhist religion, but secular, because the Thai inhabitants also see it as a day on which break away from the everyday life (Cochrane, 2008).
Image below: Songkran day
On Makha Bucha day, according to the Lunisor Buddhist calendar, the Thai people commemorate “the full moon day of the third lunar month when Bhudda delivered his core teachings.” (Bangkok Food Tours, 2018). This celebration takes place in temples. Secondly, the Visakha Bucha Day, which happens on full moon of the sixth lunar month. On this day the three incidents happened during the life of Buddha will be celebrated, these are the birth, the enlightment, and his death (Thai Consulate General Vancouver, 2019). Thirdly, the Asalha Bucha Day is celebrated. On this day the Thai people commemorate the Lord Buddha who delivered his first sermon, which is a kind of preach. On all three days, Thai people walk around the temple with flowers, incenses, and a candle that is lit.
The Thailand Experience
Unfortunately, we were not able to visit Thailand for our current minor, but we wanted to gain some knowledge of what Thailand is like and how people experience the country. Luckily, some of our friends have been there and have shared their experience with us and we would like to share it with you as well, to create a better picture of the Thai culture and Thailand as a country.
‘’ Thailand is a cheap country with many cocktails. I experienced many little and really kind people. They always have a smile on their face (which refers to the title of this blog ‘’Thailand, the country of smiles’’). Overall, all the Thai people are helpful, and the taxi drivers are nice.’’
‘’ Thai people are helpful and friendly, however I experienced differences per region. The north was in my eyes more helpful and friendly compared to the south. Maybe this is because of the fact, that the south is more touristic. I also experienced that monks can’t sit next to women. We were sitting at the back of the bus with our backpack, and a monk came sitting next to us and we could see that he didn’t feel comfortable. At that moment we didn’t realize what could be the reason. Some minutes later, another man came sitting between us, and the monk and he immediately felt more comfortable. It was a very interesting and noticeable situation that monks can’t sit next to women. Moreover, Thailand has many temples, and a lot of people have a small temple at home. They bring food and drinks to the temple every day to show respect to buddha, no one is eating the food at the end of the day, this is just a gesture. I also experienced that there are big differences in touristic places and non-touristic places. ‘’
Lastly, they have shared some recommendations where you have to go when you are in Thailand:
- National park Khao Sok: to enjoy the beautiful nature of Thailand
- Kick box game: because kick boxing is popular in Thailand.
- Follow a cooking class: to experience the typical Thai cuisine.
- Pai:to experience a nice place with many markets, restaurants, scooters, and a nice trendy place to spend some time.
- Elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai: this is a sanctuary where you can help to bring the elephants back into the jungle. This will definitely become an experience you will remember.
Down below you see pictures of the recommendations:
Bangkok Food Tours. (2018, January 30). What Travelers Need to Know about Makha Bucha Day in Thailand. Retrieved from Bangkok Food Tours: https://www.bangkokfoodtours.com/travelers-need-know-makha-bucha-day-thailand/
BBC. (2002, February 10). Theravada Buddhism. Retrieved from BBC: https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/buddhism/subdivisions/theravada_1.shtml
Cultural Atlas. (n.d.). Thai Business Culture. Retrieved October 14, 2020, from Cultural Atlas: https://culturalatlas.sbs.com.au/thai-culture/thai-culture-business-culture
Cultural Atlas. (n.d.). Thai Culture. Retrieved October 13, 2020, from Cultural Atlas: https://culturalatlas.sbs.com.au/thai-culture/thai-culture-religion
Cultural Atlas. (n.d.). Thai Culture – Naming. Retrieved October 23, 2020, from Cultural Atlas: https://culturalatlas.sbs.com.au/thai-culture/thai-culture-naming
Dr. Kuppako, D. (2018). Buddhism in Thai life : Thai model for ASEAN. Faculty of Social Sciences, 138-158.
e Diplomat. (2016, May 2). Thailand – Cultural Etiquette. Retrieved from e Diplomat: http://www.ediplomat.com/np/cultural_etiquette/ce_th.htm
International Business Research. (2012, October 16). Amazing Thailand: Organizational Culture in the Thai Public Sector. International Business Research;, 35-42.
Thai Consulate General Vancouver. (2019, May 18). The Relevance Of VISAKA BUCHA Day To Thailand People. Retrieved from Thai Consulate General Vancouver: https://www.thaicongenvancouver.org/visakhabucha.htm
Trazy Blog. (2020, February 28). A Guide to the Most Important Holidays in Thailand. Retrieved from Trazy Blog: https://blog.trazy.com/most-important-holidays-in-thailand/
United States Department of State. (2018). THAILAND 2018 INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REPORT. United States of America: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Retrieved from U.S. Department of State.