- Cultural shocks frequently happen due to weak knowledge of Thai Buddhism
A few years ago when a famous Thai monk was visiting the USA, a woman - new adept of Buddhism - wanted to kiss the monk to greet him. The bodyguards have to do their best to protect the monk.
Westerner people make advertising, TV commercials, music clips with their own culture in mind and don't think about cultural conflicts that could happen. In foreign societies, monk are always seen like quiet, peaceful, undisturbable persons, always concentrated on meditation. So showing monks having a big fun and forgetting their rules shows that the product can even disturb them from their ultimate goal.
In year 2003 airline Lufthansa has apologised to Thailand for an offending picture in its magazine showing a woman sitting on a statue of Buddha. The publicity was removed after the Thai embassy complained about it.
In 2007 the censorship of controversial scenes in Apichatpong Weerasethakul's film "Saeng Sattawat" (Syndromes and a Century) has led to a call to liberate Thai films from state intervention.
In year 2008 two German tourists were arrested for having sex on a wall of the Srisanphet Temple in Ayutthaya. The couple were handed over to police and were fined Bt500 each before being released.
The controversy was closed when the statue was identified to be a Tibetan statue.
In year 2013 these two pictures were offending pictures as they show the Buddha image used on public toilets. The Dutch company indicated they were not aware about the impact of the pictures. They have withdrawn the pictures and offered apologies.
- Cultural shocks frequently happen due to weak knowledge of Thai culture
In year 1998 a wife of a north European diplomat slapped the face of a little Thai boy because he threw water on her evening dress. This happened during the Songkran feast. Traditionally this ceremony is aimed to pour water into the palms hands in order that bad actions, bad thoughts flow away with the water. But nowadays Songkran is better known for the tourist game of throwing water. The wife had to excuse herself to the family of the little boy.
Thai people are always ready to help. If somebody asks for his way, Thai people might prefer saying a wrong indication instead of saying they don't know. The concept of saving face is very important.
To criticise is not popular in Thai society. Thai society is based on harmony, consensus. In a factory, a boss shall not criticise one staff in front of all employees. It shall be done with tact with indirect critics and not direct critics. It is the contrary of western methods. For example teachers are never criticised because they represent the knowledge.
- Cultural shocks frequently happen due to weak knowledge of Thai monarchy
In Thailand, the Royal family is highly worshipped, especially the King Rama 9. Nobody dare to criticise them. There is even a law for crime de Lèse-Majesté. A few years ago a foreigner did have big problems when a misunderstanding happened with a restaurant owner. Disagreeing on the bill, the foreigner did walk on a bank note on purpose. But on every Thai bank note, there is the King's face! The restaurant owner gave him a painful correction for this serious offence.
Buddhist enlightenment is reached by using meditation through the mind, so the head. The head is the most valued part of the body. Of course the King's head is the most valued. The feet symbolize the attachment to the ground, so the human beings' suffering. The feet are the lowest part of the body.
A French businessman was charged with lese majeste in year 1994 for uttering an swearword on a airline after a flight attendant asked him to turn off his reading light to avoid disturbing a nearby princess.
In year 2006, a drunk Swiss faced jail for royal graffiti. This Swiss man was arrested for drunkenly defacing portraits of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej on the revered monarch's birthday and faced up to 15 years in jail. It was a lese-majeste case. In 2007, he was sentenced to 10 years in jail but finally His Majesty has granted him a pardon and he was deported from Thailand.
In year 2008, a cabinet minister was forced to resign after he was accused of offending the King in a speech about the 2006 coup by royalist generals who ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thai Politicians often use such 'Lese Majeste' argument to attack each other.
In year 2008, a Thai woman was arrested for refusing to stand as the royal anthem played in a Bangkok cinema. She could face up to 15 years in prison.
In year 2012, a Thai man nicknamed "Uncle SMS" has died in jail. He was jailed for 20 years after being found guilty of sending SMS disrespectful to Thai Queen.
- Cultural shocks frequently happen due to weak knowledge of Thai behavior
Thai people are also puzzled to see topless foreigner women on the beach. A normal Thai woman will never do this. Two places with a serious contrast are Pattaya and Bang Saen in Chonburi area. Pattaya is the famous international beach resort dedicated for foreigners. Bang Saen is a beach resort only frequented by Thai people.
Seeing a Thai woman with an umbrella when the sun is shinning ? In all Asian countries umbrella is also used to protect against sun.
The way Thai people close the car doors is different from the foreigner way. In Thailand doors are closed in order to avoid somebody opening it from the outside. In westerner countries doors are not closed in order to allow a fast opening in case of an emergency.
When having a shower, Thai people shall not use the same towel for the whole body. The correct way is to use one for the upper part (the head) and another for the lower parts.
- Cultural shocks frequently happen due to weak knowledge of Thai language.
Some Thai people greet foreigners by saying "Hey you !". From a foreigner point of view, this is not a polite way to greet people. What will Thai people think if foreigner greet them with the word "MEUNG" (มึง), i.e. "YOU" used by person of lower social status. Anyway when they say "Hey you !", Thai people always use a nice smile.
- Cultural shocks frequently happen due to weak knowledge of Thai body language.
- Thai people do not like big effusion, body contact. They don't like to be stared eye into eye. It is the opposite of western methods.
- Big and loud laughs are not common. Thai women often put their hand in front of the mouth before laughing.
- Holding hands is fine, but hugging or kissing in public are not acceptable. Love is barely shown outside home.
- As feet are considered as the lowest valued part of the body, pointing somebody with a foot is a big mistake. The westerner attitute to put the feet on the desk, cross over a meal while people are eating are also mistakes. As the head is considered as the highest valued part of the body, heads should not be touched except for children.
- Thai smile has several meanings from a greeting, a thank, answer to a greeting, a way to excuse one-self, a way to not answer and so on... If a lovely Thai girl smiles at you, it doesn't means that she is fond of you. She might be puzzled by your clothes, your blond hair and simply by the way you walk. And don't forget that Thailand is the Land of smiles.
- Some foreigners living in Thailand complain that Thai people often smile at inappropriate times. To the foreigner, what appears as a smile (no matter that it is not a happy smile) is seen as the Thai people taking the situation too lightly. Thai society puts much emphasis on relationships. Thai people want to create a friendly atmosphere.
- Speaking loudly is not also a typical Thai attitude. Foreigners speaking loudly to get something or because they are angry won't succeed at all. It will only worsen the situation.
However customs are evolving fast, notably in Bangkok where more western customs are adopted.
- Discover the column of KAT It shows daily life in Thailand through the eyes of a curious westerner trying to sort out the meaning of it all.
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