Thai Culture



  • Indirect Communication: As the concept of 'face' underpins interactions, Thai people tend to have an communication style and avoid giving flat-out refusals. In keeping interactions amenable, Thai people will often smile or nod. This gives their acknowledgement but doesn’t necessarily indicate their agreement. An unavoidable blunt or confrontational statement is generally prefaced with a phrase equivalent to, ‘if you will allow me to be frank’. This partially excuses the occasional statement. This being said, the style of communication will vary depending on the relationship. If the people are well acquainted, bluntness is accepted. However, when communicating to those of higher social status or unknown status, Thais are more cautious, and make an effort to be polite and .
  • Honorifics: Thais typically address someone by stating the first name preceded by ‘Khun’ (e.g., Khun Simon). However, if the people conversing are close friends or familiar with each other, they will omit khun. Familial honorifics ‘phi’ (‘older sibling’) and ‘nong’ (‘younger sibling’) are generally appropriate for people who are close to one another.
  • Humour: It is common for Thais to joke during conversation. Whilst humour is used in the typical way to make conversations lighthearted, it is also used to cover emotions of sadness when discussing a tragic or difficult situation.
  • Swearing: Swearing is generally not used in casual conversation and is considered to be crass.
  • Soft Voices: Thais are often soft-spoken. Raising one’s voice is generally frowned upon as it implies a loss of control in a situation and can cause a person to lose face. However, people from Bangkok tend to speak louder and faster.


  • Physical Contact: Physical contact in Thailand is acceptable amongst people of the same gender, but is usually minimal. Public displays of affection between couples, such as holding hands or kissing, are generally not shown. Buddhist monks are not supposed to make any physical contact with women.
  • Personal Space: The general distance between two people conversing is an arm’s length. When in conversation with a friend or close acquaintance, this distance is shorter.
  • Gestures: Thai people generally do not use their hands to emphasise their point in conversation. Overly dramatic gestures or frequent and rapid gestures may be misinterpreted as anger in Thailand. Pointing with a single finger is considered to be rude and accusatory.
  • Eye Contact: Eye contact shows attentiveness to the person talking. However, eye contact should be diverted every now and again to soften the interaction. Intense eye contact can be viewed as a challenge to the other person. When being instructed or spoken to by a superior, it is respectful to lower one’s eyes.
  • Height and Bowing: An important way Thais show respect is through lowering their head. Looming above someone in Thailand can be considered an aggressive form of assertion. It is especially disrespectful to position one’s head at a height higher than the Buddha. If someone needs to intersect another’s gaze to reach a destination (for example, at a performance), they will typically walk with their head bowed and their body below the eyeline of the other.
  • Nodding: Thai people often nod to acknowledge what is said. However, this does not always mean they agree or understand. It is primarily a gesture made out of .
  • Beckoning: The common way to beckon someone is by gesturing with all fingers facing downwards and towards oneself, the same gesture that would represent ‘shooing’ in Australia. Gesturing with fingers facing upwards has offensive connotations in Thailand.
  • Smiling: Thais usually smile often in conversations. Whilst it can indicate happiness, smiling is sometimes used in an attempt to cover awkwardness or sadness.
  • Head: Never touch someone on the top of their head. It is considered to be the most sacred part of the body.
  • Feet: Feet are considered to be the dirtiest part of the body and should not be used to point at things or move objects. The soles of one’s feet should not be pointed at others.

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