One of my readers asked me about cultural differences in Thailand, from the perspective of a westerner staying in Thailand for an extended period. My reader who is I’m guessing a teenager, is going to be staying in Thailand for a year on an exchange program.
This is our conversation :
Reader: You live in Thailand? Can you please tell me what it is like there! I have to go for my exchange year in August until June 2015 but I have no clue what it’s like
Don Charisma: Well you are in for a treat, it’s warm, the food is great, the people are generally pretty happy … it’s quite green place plenty of trees and green areas … I was a little worried about various things before I came here, but I think most of it, I was just wrong about … did I cover everything ?
Reader: Haha almost. Two more questions. How are younger people treated in stores and is there anything I shouldn’t do for the year I’m there? I’m talking things that could offend quite highly. Travelers tips so to speak
Don Charisma: LOL, yes it’s hard to know what others might want to know, so thanks for saying …
You will often find that outsiders get charged higher prices for things, in anything apart from shopping malls. So be prepared for this. It’s impossible to stop it happening, the best advice I can give you is be polite, learn some pleasantries in Thai and use them. The Thai’s will like you a lot more if you smile, and try to speak a little of their language. Sawadeecarb means essentially “hello”, Cop-Khun-Carb means thankyou. For males, females have to say it differently – Sawadeecar for “Hello” and Cop-Khun-car for thankyou.
Also you will rarely be able to return something if you don’t want it, it breaks or any other reason. ALWAYS THINK CAREFULLY before you put money into someone else’s had. Once you’ve given it, well good luck trying to get a refund !
I always carry small bills. I make a point of buying small things in 7-11 and keep on stocking up with change, do this in “respectable” places. It’s best to carry exact money for anything that your paying for. So my wallet will have lots of 20 baht and 100 baht notes, a few 500 baht and even fewer 1000 baht. I always save the 10 baht coins to use on the bus. When you arrive, start changing money into smaller sizes at your first opportunity. Why ? Well people can be tricky, give wrong change, not want to give you change if you pay large note and then hard to argue with them. If you give them the correct money, then harder for them to try and trick you.
You’ll get away with a lot in Thailand by smiling …
As for things that might offend well that’s a long topic, suggest some research into cultural differences and respect the Thai culture. There are many trashy people, but there are also a lot of good people who try to live with virtue.
So be careful not to show anger in public, make sure you have a very good reason if you are. And then try to keep smiling, try to be patient and assertive. Getting angry with people could land you in mess.
They are very very protective of the royal family. So I’d suggest don’t do or say anything disrespectful towards the royal family.
Again there are very many good and lovely Thai people. But there are also crooks, swindlers and thieves. Theses people exist in every country I’ve been to, so not just advice about Thailand. So be aware of what people’s motives are, if it’s a small amount of money, then sometimes it makes sense to just pay it and get out of the situation. Usually if I feel uncomfortable in the situation, then it means that there’s something crooked or manipulative going on. I just do my best to get out of that situation as soon as possible, and mark it down as a learning, so I can avoid in future …
My preference is to dress humbly, t-shirt and shorts (or jeans), often not new. I often carry a small backpack which is used and worn. Try to make yourself blend in, but not over the top with flowery shirts and “traditional” Thai dress. Just look like an ordinary, not very affluent westerner. Within that don’t be scruffy, still take care of your appearance, but the point is to look not that wealthy even if you are.
The Thais are odd about public affection, so be cautious about body language and touching Thais in public. Also the head is the most sacred part of a Thais body, so again use caution touching Thais heads.
Ok, so that’s all I can think of, there’s plenty more, have a hunt around on Google for cultural differences 🙂
It’s not a definitive, complete guide to cultural differences or living in Thailand, but I few things I thought my reader might find useful. And now I share with you too 🙂
The above photo is the Thai king. As mentioned above, the royal family are held pretty much sacred – so DO NOT disrespect the royal family, you can be arrested, fined and/or jailed I think for doing so.
Respect local laws and cultural differences and Thailand is an enjoyable fun place to visit.
Obviously do your own research and due diligence elsewhere. Also note there are some political troubles currently in Bangkok, so worth informing yourself prior to travelling. Don’t take my word for it !