Body Language in Thailand

Despite Thailand’s apparently laid-back and relaxed attitude, it can be surprisingly easy for unaware visitors to cause offence. Manners are important to Thai people and what may be acceptable in Western society is not always appropriate in Thailand.

Thai people consider the head and shoulders to be the most important part of the body as they are at the highest level. Many Thai people don’t like to be touched on the head and to do so is considered disrespectful.

The feet are the lowest part of the body both physically and symbolically. It is best to sit with your feet down on the ground and not resting on tables or chairs. Never place your feet near other people’s heads or faces (for example, when travelling by train). When entering a Thai house or religious shrine, always remove your shoes. If your feet are dirty, wash them before entering. Many houses will have a bowl of water near the door for this purpose.

The hands are also important in Thai culture. Don’t point to anyone with your forefinger (and under no circumstances should you point to someone’s face!). Receiving things or welcoming people with your right hand shows politeness and respect. This is doubly true when offering or accepting food. Use your right hand because the left hand is associated with cleaning after toilet routines. For extra politeness, when receiving things from elder people or those higher ranked socially, Thais will use both hands by using the left hand to support the elbow of the right arm while receiving. When beckoning somebody (such as a waiter or taxi driver), use your palm facing downwards, never upwards. When showing something to someone, use your right hand (palm down) with all fingers extended. Pointing at something with your foot will cause offence, particularly if you point at food.

With thanks and acknowledgement to Papinporn Language School.

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