Thailand Thai Culture
Chef LeeZ Thai Cooking Class Bangkok
Thailand’s calendar is over 500 years older than the Christian calendar suggesting Thai history has been kept for 500 + more years than that of Christianity. This making Thai culture very old indeed and not till quite recently has there been any outside interference with Thai culture. Thai culture varies somewhat by the area of Thailand you are visiting as there are different foods and traditions in South Thailand from those of Bangkok and still different in North Thailand where your can experience what is referenced to as Isaan and or Hill People.
Chef LeeZ is going to discuss in general some of the culture as one could write a book on it and indeed there are many books already written delving into Thai culture in detail. One such book is titled “So You Want To Marry A Thai” and it provides a Thai and Western Culture comparison in Both English and Thai.
The first thing you should know is as a Foreigner (falung) you are invited to visit Thailand at the Kings allowance. You are welcome for the duration of your visa so long as you are leaving behind foreign money and with special arrangements you can obtain a work permit. This is to say if the King should ever call for all foreigners to leave Thailand you would have to leave no matter what your visa says. You can never become a Thai citizen.
Population – Thailand’s population is near 66 million people of which 44 million are females. That’s right Thai women give birth on average to two females to each male born. This fact has much bearing on Thai culture. A generation ago it was very common to have families of 7 or 9 children but this generation is averaging 3 or less children to a family. 92% of the population is Buddhist, near 8% are Muslim and less than 1% is Christian.
Family – Most Families live together till they are in their 40’s. Most family children are raised by the grandmother installing 20 year old ideas and morals in the young minds. Even after marriage it is common for the newly weds to reside in the family home. It can even extend to a mother-in-law moving in after the birth of a child to help with care of the child and never leaving.
The 2 females born to every male child born fact creates the situation of males being raised as superior to their sibling sisters. If you watch a family having breakfast on the way to school you may well see the mother spoon feeding her 8 year son while her 5 year daughter is feeding herself. Hugs are replaced with nods or hand shakes and kisses with a sniff.
Momma Money – It is the daughters responsibility, not the son’s, to provide money to Momma to aide Momma in feeding father and other dependent family members. Typically the daughter will send 10% of their take home pay to Momma and thus the previous generation having birthed 7 – 9 children would likely have 5+ daughters each paying 1,000 + baht to Momma each month. It will be interesting to see how the current generation deals with this with their reduced family size of 1-3 children. Now Momma money is generally a good thing as it ensures Momma and or Poppa have some money but it can be made into a bad thing such as … Momma tells her daughter(s) that the neighbors daughter give her mother 10,000 baht last month and Momma asks her daughter(s) why they can not do the same for her. So daughter(s) go out and prostitute as it’s the only way they can earn that kind of money and of course they tell their mother that they got a big promotion at work. It also comes to Momma calling daughter when the Momma money is late and instead of saying I love she says: “where’s my Momma money?”
Marriage – Weddings are usually 3+ day events with much celebration. The groom before or after acceptance by the bride will ask the father for his daughters hand in marriage and present the father with a dowry. The dowry is to represent a minimum of 10% of the annual earnings of the groom. The minimum dowry is usually 10,000 baht. If the groom is a foreigner the minimum expected is 100,000. In either case the dowry must represent the station of the bride. If the female is the daughter of the prime minister her dowry may well be in the millions of bahts. There are no diamond rings or any ring involved. All diamond related wrongs are western culture diamond demand related. The dowry is usually used to pay for the wedding celebrations. Wealthy families will likely give the dowry back to the newly weds. The parents gain FACE by putting the dowry out on display for all to see as to what they received for their daughters hand.
Due to the population fact of 2 females to every male it is culturally accepted and expected that the husband will fool around. If he should do too much Thai culture has it so the wife will cut off his penis and feed it to the ducks. Due this unusual arrangement Thailand has the reputation of being worlds best at penis re-connections.
It is fairly common place to see a financially successful male with a girlfriend on each arm and his wife walking behind in acceptance.
Face – Thai people are a proud culture with “FACE” being very important to Thai’s. Face is basically what a Thai believes others think of them. They gain face by acts of kindness and by freely sharing wealth and knowledge. They also gain face by how much the rip off of foreigners in any given day. Thus it is, as a foreigner, very difficult to get a taxi to run their meter. See our taxi page for detailed discussion on BKK “Mafia taxi’s”. During the BKK floods of 2011 USA had two aircraft carriers positioned outside Bangkok and offered their help with equipment men and materials. Bangkok’s Gov’t could not have a foreigner solve their problem and declined the USA’s offer to help allowing the Thai citizens of Bangkok and elsewhere to suffer the consequences of not having accepted the help. Face and Pride!
Prejudice: Runs rampant in Thailand as white is beautiful and black can not be beautiful. Thus you will find a multitude of skin products labelled as whiteners instead of SPF #. You will see some Thai’s walking around all day with white paste on their faces as this makes them more beautiful than the Thai next to them without the white paste. Personally i believe this is an installation of the affluent Chinese immigrants who came with whiter skin and gave them a position above the Thai’s.
Lady boys Thailand gay males have been an accepted part of Thai population for near 100 years. Although they are accepted they are ridiculed and rejected behind their backs. Gay marriages are not legal and not recognized as a marriage by the Thai Government.
Lesbians are totally rejected by Thai population.
Land Without Laws – Thailand is sometimes referred to the land without laws. Nothing could be further from the truth than this statement as Thailand has a multitude of laws. It is imply that Thai children are taught at a very early age that some laws are OK to break. Laws such as motorcycle helmet law. It is common place to see a family of 4 all on one motorcycle and none are wearing a helmet. Other laws are ignored and supported via corruption. For example prostitution is illegal but nearly every female working in every bar is a knowingly to the police a hooker.
Corruption – Is rampant and is at every level of life in Thailand from nearly police officer offering the payment of fine be directly to him or you go to the station, to schools having a an arrangements with immigration officers to ignore the foreigner teachers working without work permits, to politicians paying for 4 fire trucks and only receiving 4, to mafia pretty much openly operation protection and or operating permissions for a fee. If you want to arrange finance for a project in Thailand you will be requested to use a local contractor as he will know who needs a Cadillac and when they need it so your materials and equipment will continue to arrive on schedule. So as a tourist it is unlikely you will see the corruption except with your taxi drivers ignoring the taxi laws by refusing to run their meter, or running under sized tires or the driver of your taxi not being the same person in the picture on the dash being the registered operator.
Non Conflict – Thailand culture is one of non conflict. It is straight out rude to raise your voice during an argument or to get your point across. Social issues and what westerners consider a legal right such as Food poisoning by restaurants or road side stands go unchallenged and not reported.
Business ownership – Most successful businesses are joint owned by a foreigner and Thai or is owned by a Chinese- Thai. For whatever reason Thai’s are extremely poor at operating a business. See our doing business in Thailand Page for detailed discussion on business ownership as a foreigner.
Dr.’s are God – Thai’s will not ask their Dr. questions for whatever he shared with them had to be absolutely correct as he is educated and they are not. When I asked doctors questions they got up from their desk and walked out of the room never to return. So now when I visit a Dr. I am very selective of the question(s) I ask so as to not question what he has already said.
Gifts – Gift giving is rare in Thailand. When a gift is given it is given without expectation of receiving a gift in return. However in Thai culture the gift will nearly always be reciprocated with a gift and that gift must be more valuable than the gift received so you can see how this would escalate to where it becomes truly not affordable by either person. Birth Days do not involve gifting but rather only a pizza or such with family no friends or neighbors nor relatives that reside some distant form the birth day person. Now imagine this .. gift giving in families that are 7 uncles or aunts and each having 7 children they have 7 children that would be one birthday nearly every day of the year.
Buddhist Monks – Dressed in orange wraps the Buddhist Monks are very visible each morning as they walk the streets offering prayer for a donation (usually food) put in the pot they each carry. It is sacrilege for a Thai Buddhist Monk to touch a female or be touched by a female so ladies grant them this respect and do not accidentally or on purpose touch them. The seat immediately behind the center doors of every city buss is reserved for monks. You can sit in the seat but if a monk enters it is extremely rude not to get up and give them the seat.
Loy Krathong – An annual celebration in early to mid November (depending on the lunisolar calender) represents the covenant between Thai culture and the water. Traditionally paper lanterns rise high into the night sky by the heat generated by a lite candle heat lifting the paper clad lantern high into the night breezes. In addition floating slices of banana tree decorated in a kinds of manner including lite candles, real and paper leaves and flowers, wired or glued to the banana tree are placed on rivers and other bodies of water. It is a marvelous site behold with thousands of lights floating in the night breeze and thousands more floating candle displays drifting with the water currents. This tradition is in the belief that together with the raft, the sins and mistakes of the past year are washed away and room is made for new happiness in one’s life. Unfortunately for the water ways millions of people are thus polluting the water ways with what must eventually sink to the bottom of the water and rot including the slices of banana tree, paper flowers, wire attachments, wax candles, unburned incense and in recent years the banana slices have been replaced with styrofoam which remains in the water system nearly forever.
Marriage – Multiple wives, Divorce, Death .
The Wai –
Thai Educational system –
Head is High Feet are low – don’t touch male Thai’s on the head. Don’t face the bottoms of your feet toward anyone.