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Thai Culture and Business Etiquette (Part Two)

In Part Two, we continue looking at Thai culture and the importance of being aware of social customs and practices when doing business in Thailand.

Body Language

Touching between people of the same sex is more common in Thailand than in many other Asian countries. However, touching someone of the opposite sex is taboo. Do not show affection in public. Never touch or pass anything over anyone’s head. The head is considered sacred in Thailand and must be respected.

Never point your feet at anyone or use your feet to move anything or touch anyone. Feet are regarded as unclean and symbolically (as well as physically) the lowest part of the body. Do not put your hands in your pockets while talking to someone. Never put your arm over the back of the chair in which someone is sitting.

A smile is often used for many different emotions. It may be an apology, a thank-you, a greeting, or to show embarrassment. Be aware: A Thai’s smiling assurance does not mean you will in fact get what you want, when you want it. It simply reflects the Thai appreciation of harmony and their “never mind” attitude.

Don’t wave your hands about as you talk, giving Thais the impression that you are angry. Never pass anything with your left hand. Never point with your hand and never, never with one finger. Do not cross your legs in the presence of the elderly or monks. To beckon someone, extend your arm with the palm of your hand down and flutter your fingers up and down.

Take off your shoes when entering a Thai house.

Dining and Entertainment

To attract a waiter, wave quietly with your palm down or say “Nong” (brother or sister). Never snap your fingers or raise your voice to attract a waiter. Thai food is eaten with a fork and a tablespoon rather than with chopsticks. The spoon is held in the right hand and the bottom of the fork pushes the food into the spoon. All Western hotels serve Western and continental cuisine for all meals.

Never drink tap water unless it is boiled. Avoid eating salads that haven’t been washed in purified water. Always peel fruit before eating. Many Thai dishes are hot and spicy with herbs, lemon grass, and coriander, but most are not especially aggressive. Food is always sweet, sour, hot, salty or spicy never bland. Each region has its own specialties. Food may be transferred to your rice bowl, where it can be mixed with rice. Rice is eaten with almost every meal. Leave a small amount of food on your plate when you have finished eating, to show you are full. Place your spoon and fork on your plate at the 5:25 position to indicate you are finished eating.
The host pays the bill. Never offer to split a bill in a restaurant.


Thai society is divided into upper and lower classes. At formal occasions, dress is expected to match one’s social station. Appearance is very important. Wealth is greatly admired. High-status Thais often overdress, especially considering the hot climate.

Western clothing is very common. Modest clothing is recommended. General dress is informal but always neat and clean. Clothing should be stylish and cool.

For Businessmen: Pants and shirts (white or colored) with or without a tie. A light suit or jacket adds status. In the evening, dark business suits or formal traditional Thai shirts are worn. Senior executives wear light weight suits to work.
For Businesswomen: Conservative dresses or skirts and blouses (not sleeveless). Simple blouses and calf-length loose pants and long wrap-around or tube skirts are common.


Gift giving in Thailand is Westernized with less formality than elsewhere in Asia.

Bring a small gift for anyone who works for you regularly. Items such as books, special food items and pens are appropriate.

Give a gift with your right hand and receive a gift with your right hand. You should also offer a wai.

Do not open a gift you’ve been given unless invited to do so. Thais generally do not open a gift in front of the giver.

For the hostess give fruits, flowers, cakes, brandy/liquors, candy.

In business, give Brandy, liquors, American crafts, books and desk attire are appropriate gifts.

Especially for Women

Men conduct most business. However, many traditional sex-barriers are disappearing. More and more women are holding executive positions in the workforce. Ladies may not enter a bot, the restricted area of a wat (temple). Never touch a monk, hand him anything or sit next to or higher than him. When visiting a mosque, cover your body. Wear slacks, a long skirt, a long sleeved blouse with a buttoned neck, and a headscarf. Traditional Thais believe a woman can lose face if a man touches her in public.

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