Being polite is important in Thai society, but there are times when you may think a Thai person is being rude or ill-mannered simply because the Thai way of doing things is often very different to many other cultures. One of the most common examples is when it comes to meeting new people because introductions play a far less important part in Thai culture than they do in the West.
If you are at a small function or social gathering in your own country, then the chances are that at some stage you will either introduce yourself, or be introduced, to the people there that you don’t know. That doesn’t happen in Thailand. In Thailand, people in the same room or eating at the same table may not be introduced to one another because it’s not considered important. On the other hand, if somebody specifically wants two people to get to know each other, then they will be introduced. Apart from that, the main reason introductions are made is to facilitate the need to pay respect. For example, it could be a case of you being introduced to somebody’s parents so that you can pay respect to them or it could be somebody’s younger sibling being introduced to you so that they can pay their respects to you.
Just to make matters confusing, at a Thai social occasion some people may be referred to as ‘phi’ (older brother/sister) or ‘nong‘ (younger brother/sister) although they are not actually directly related to anybody there. Thailand is a very family-oriented society and even if somebody isn’t a blood relation they are often given a kinship term such as brother, sister, uncle or aunt. It can be confusing but it just goes to emphasise the importance Thai society places on family.