Most people visiting or living in Thailand will have read up on the obvious rules of Thai Etiquette, such as don’t touch a person’s head, don’t point the soles of your feet at someone, always take your shoes off before entering a house and dress appropriately when visiting a temple. However, below are some subtle shades of Thai Etiquette that can easily be overlooked.
Blowing Your Nose
You may want to think twice about blowing your nose in front of a Thai person, especially at the dinner table. No one will say anything, but blowing your nose into tissue or a handkerchief will come across as gross. If you see a Thai person using a tissue or handkerchief, they may dab their nose but will never do a full out trumpeting blow in front of other fellow Thai people. A handy tip, for when you really want to blow your nose, is to pop into the bathroom and do it.
Tucking Into Your Food
A plate arrives on the table, you’re ravenously hungry, so why not just tuck in right? Well, again, no one will say anything, but it is not that polite to start eating first before everyone else starts. It is usually the eldest person at the table who tucks in first, although you may be invited to start eating first as a gesture of hospitality toward a foreigner, which sometimes might entail being told that you will have good luck in having a beautiful / handsome partner if you start first. Always offer for the eldest person to start eating first, but if you happen to be the eldest person there, one idea is to invite everyone to start eating all at the same time.
Moving Stuff Around
This one is a very subtle etiquette rule, one that can be broken at times, and that is not to move something around, like a golf ball for instance, with your feet. This includes switching on a fan with your toes or moving a doorstop into position with your feet. Although again, this rule is broken regularly, such as when a doorstop might be dirty to pick up. In this case you can always announce that because it’s dirty you are going to break an etiquette rule with a cheeky smile and no one will mind. This rule obviously doesn’t apply to playing football.
Hands In Your Pockets
This is not quite an etiquette rule, but more like about how you want to portray yourself. You may be used to putting your hands in your pockets, when you are standing around waiting, or even strolling along. You can do this . . . at the risk of looking like a bit of a jerk. You may have noticed that Thai people rarely (if ever) have their hands in their pockets, as it comes across as if you are trying to be ‘cool’. You can carry on putting your hands in your pockets of course, but you may get a few grins or rolling eyes.
Many people like to whistle a tune, but in Thailand it is generally considered to be rude. No one will say anything to you, but their respect for you will go down a notch. Some people in Thailand believe that whistling invites ghosts into the area where you are whistling. You can still defy this subtle etiquette rule, if you don’t mind looking arrogant.
All of the above subtle nuances in Thai etiquette are not enforced of course. If you ask a Thai friend or partner if they mind you whistling, blowing your nose in public, or any of the other points mentioned above, they will more than likely tell you that it’s okay out of courtesy, as they will respect that your culture differs too. Although you will certainly gain more respect by observing not only the obvious rules of Thai etiquette, but also the subtle, less obvious rules.