Thai value systems regarding dress, social behavior, religion, authority figures, and sexuality are much more conservative than those of the average Westerner. Although the Thais are an extremely tolerant and forgiving race of people blessed with a gentle religion and an easygoing approach to life, visitors would do well to observe proper social customs to avoid embarrassment and misunderstanding.
Thais are tolerant of individualism, but find comfort and security in being part of a group. Thais are productive and hard working while at the same time happy with what they are and what they have materially. They are smiling, pleasant, humble and patient people who laugh easily, speak softly, are slow to anger, and never try to cause anyone to lose face. Thais are very proud of their cultural heritage and enjoy talking about it with visitors.
Meeting and Greeting? When being introduced or greeting someone, men say Sawatdee-krap and women say Sawatdee-kah.?Thais greet each other with a “wai.” Foreigners are not expected to initiate the wai gesture, but it is an insult not to return the wai. If a wai is not offered to you, shake hands with men and smile and nod to women. A Thai businessperson may shake hands with a foreigner. Offer a wai only to a person of equal or greater status. Subordinates should offer a wai first.
Wai (why) – a person places the palm of his or her hands together, with their fingers extended at chest level close to their body and bows slightly. The higher the hands are placed, the more respect is shown. Subordinates might raise their fingers as high as their nose. However, the tips of their fingers should never be above eye level.
A wai can mean “Hello,” “Thank you,” “I’m sorry,” or “Goodbye.” A wai is not used to greet children, servants, street vendors or laborers. Never return a wai to a child, waiter, clerk, etc. Simply nod and smile in response? Monks do not return a wai? Thais say “Where are you going” rather than “Hello.” A polite response is “Just down the street.”
Introductions are common only in a formal situation. Introduce yourself by your first name. Feel free to introduce yourself or ask for someone’s name. When introducing your business partner to an important Thai, mention your partner’s name first? The inferior or lower-status person is always addressed first in an introduction. Thus, a child is introduced before its parents, a secretary is introduced before her boss.
Names and Titles? Thais address one another by first names and titles and reserve last names for very formal occasions and written communications. Last names have been used in Thailand for only the past fifty years and are difficult even for Thais to pronounce. Two people with the same last name are almost certainly related? Foreigners are often addressed by their given names because it is easier for Thais; it does not imply familiarity. Thais will probably call you Mr. Joe or Mrs. Mary.
Titles, rank and honor are very important. Introductions require only the given name and title. Mr., Mrs., or Miss + family name are appropriate for visitors to use in formal situations.
Thai given names are preceded by Khun (Mr. Mrs. or Miss), unless they carry a higher degree, such as doctor. Khun is used for men and women, married or single. If you don’t know a person’s name, address them as Khun. Example: Anuwat (Given) + Wattapongsiri (Family) is Khun Anuwat.
Business Culture? Thailand has a pro-business attitude. Business decisions are slow. Decisions pass through many levels before being decided upon. Planning is short-term. Top management is often family. Who you know is important. Powerful connections are respected? First meetings generally produce good humor, many smiles, polite conversation and few results.
The second meeting should include a meal invitation. Meetings begin with small talk. Discussing business before becoming acquainted is impolite. Degrees, especially from prestigious universities, bring status. Thais may list these on their business card. Thais respect foreigners with powerful connections.
Negotiations may be lengthy. Process takes precedence over content. Slow information flow may delay discussions and decisions?Thais prefer to work later in the evening rather than early in the morning. Business is kept separate from work. Family comes first before business? Frankness is not appreciated. Be subtle in responding with a negative reply.
Business Cards? Business cards are given out after the initial handshake and greeting. In theory, you should give your card to the most senior person first? It is advisable to have one side of your business card translated into Thai? Using your right hand, deliver your business card so the Thai side faces the recipient? Look at a business card for a few seconds before placing it on the table or in a business card case. As in most Asian countries, it is polite to make some comment about the card, even if it is only to acknowledge the address.