Not sure what to think of Thai culture?
I tell you what: once you immerse yourself in it, you’ll come to love it.
For Buddha’s sake! Wait! This isn’t a platitude.
Thai culture has a squillion of aspects that make living so much easier and less complicated than westerners’ way of life.
Well, here’s what will make you grow fond of Thais’ traditions sooner or later.
Eating on the floor, the table, or whatever is flat
It’s common for Thai people to plant themselves on the floor, the table or any even object to have their meals at informal gatherings.
Sure, this might not be your cup of tea. Try a different type then and mull it over. Or would you rather hang out with peeps who pay attention to how you’re holding cutlery, let alone what skirt or tie you’re wearing?
Okay, you can also impress Thais by wearing dazzling clothes, but none of them will ever tell you that your table manners are mai soobhaab (not polite).
It doesn’t surprise me that this tradition, though bizarre, has survived till today. Sitting on the floor or the table to nosh is a laid-back approach to life and creates a sense of community.
Speaking of what happened generations ago brings us to another cultural value that has stood the test of time.
Oh yes, that’s an important element of Thai culture. We westerners could take a leaf out of their book.
Take the traffic, for example. There is no silly lecturing or the like.
Likewise, Thais couldn’t care less if there are four of you on a motorcycle, they do that themselves. And as long as you don’t cause an accident, you won’t have a problem when you’re driving in the opposite direction.
I was really surprised when the cops were passing us on a motorbike in Koh Phangan – Koh Samui’s neighbouring island – ignoring the three of us on one scooter. We weren’t even wearing helmets, imagine! Don’t do that in Phuket though, you don’t want to get to know the law.
I guess you’d much rather strike up an acquaintance with Thai families.
Living together with several generations
It’s common for Thai people to live under the same roof with a number of age groups. They’re family-orientated people who’ve probably never heard the term ‘mummy’s boy’.
Even newlyweds are welcome to live with their parents. Aunts, uncles, siblings, grannies and grandpas – all of them may help raise fledglings.
And let’s face it – in a country where social security cannot compare favourably with western standards, living together and supporting each other certainly has its benefits.
Okay, privacy leaves a lot to be desired. Getting your beauty sleep in the lounge together with your partner and eight relatives – separated only by thin partition walls or even curtains – doesn’t leave much room for intimacy. Your bunkmates will hear even the most carefully eased-out mini fart. But don’t worry, as already mentioned, they’re a tolerant lot.
A strong family comes with more advantages. You’ll never feel lonely or bored, you’ll get the support you need when tough times hit. You might become an even better listener, and above all, the next party is never too far away – an excellent opportunity to learn how to help others.
Thais hardly ever consider themselves too good for lending a helping hand.
A security guy at an MRT underground station in Bangkok asked me where I wanted to go after seeing me studying the various exits. As I was explaining, a blind old woman approached the exit near us, and he rushed to help her instead. Another MRT employee sitting in the ticket office saw this and came to show me the exit I’d been looking for.
Of course, you can say this was his job, but he needn’t have bothered. He could’ve remained in his office, picking his nose, waiting for passengers to buy tickets or for me to come and ask.
A prime example of a gesture of goodwill is a Thai man’s behaviour at a BTS Sky train station in Bangkok. The guy realised that my Grab driver poring over the app’s map wasn’t familiar with the location, even though he should’ve been. This was a motorcycle taxi driver after all (Grab is an Uber-like app). The gentleman in his forties, clad in suit and tie, gave the grabbie a leg up before he had a chance to ask anybody.
And this positive energy is precisely what I love about Thais’ conduct. Accommodating folks with truly friendly vibes are all around you in the Land of Smiles.
Given that even poor Thais smile a lot more than some affluent westerners dragging their feet to work every morning, this country’s other name is very apt.
Just compare people’s faces back home with those you see in Thailand at rush hour. This is when the BTS sky train and the MRT underground are bursting at the seams, yet these folks don’t jostle each other. Instead, they yim (smile) and remain affable. Especially petite women and slim men make an effort to demonstrate politeness. They bend lightly in a humble posture when you’re standing in their way.
While culture shock is different for everyone, this country’s obliging citizens will make sure it’s no big deal for you.
Even if their mai-pen-rai-attitude (the it-doesn’t-matter-attitude) takes some getting-used-to, adapt to their way of life. You’ll find yourself to be a much happier person, no matter how content you already are with your life right now.
Michael Zullo says
Very good article Philipp and your photos are great. We agree – Thia culture is not to be missed. We lived in Bangkok renting an apartment for 9 months & enjoyed not only the busy city but traveling to many places and sites like one of our favorites = Chaing Mai, Chiang Rai, Udon, Kanchanaburi, Phuket and the Kumphawapi District enjoying one of our highlights the ‘red lotus lake.’ Thanks for all the good info.
NYC – USA
Philipp Meier says
You’re welcome. Thank you for your comment and praise, and sorry for replying so late. Just saw your comment.
I’m glad you like the article and the photos. Yes, Thai culture is great. I’ll have to check out the red lotus lake.
Philipp – great to meet you, hope to chat more at the next travel massive event next month!