“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” – Clifton Fadiman
Picture credit: BlueStream Marketing
What is a cross-cultural misunderstanding?
Cross-cultural misunderstanding happens when people from different cultures communicate or interact with one another. People from one culture act according to their norms and values, but the other does not understand the message the way it was conveyed and might interpret differently due to the cultural differences. Cultural misunderstanding also occurs when a word, gestures or social context have different meanings in different cultures.
In this case, I will focus on Thai culture in particular. I do believe that people travelling to other countries having a basic understanding of what is acceptable and what is frowned upon can be a big advantage for them. I am not saying or expecting that people have to act like the way the Thai do, it is just good to be mindful of how things in Thailand are.
Here are some tips to help you understand more about Thai culture and avoid cultural misunderstandings.
- Thai greeting– The Wai- The wai is the common form of greeting and adheres to strict rules of protocol. It consists of a slight bow, with the palms pressed together. Generally, a younger person wais an elder, who returns it
- Confrontation– Thai people generally speak softly and avoid confrontation at all costs. Please do not shout or raise your voice. Moreover, losing your temper, or showing strong negative emotions in public is considered a negative behavior
- Touching other’s head– In Thailand, your head is considered high; it is the most sacred part of the body, so touching someone’s head is considered rude, impolite and disrespectful.
- Eating– it is inappropriate to lick you fingers while eating
- No shoes inside– it is essential in Thai culture for people to remove their shoes before entering to someone’s house or a temple.
- Pointing with your feet– the foot is considered the lowest part of the body. Pointing your feet to someone or something or raising your feet higher than someone’s head, using your feet to move anything or touch anyone or simply put your feet on the table is considered extremely rude in Thai culture.
- Bend your body– As I mentioned above the head is the most scared part of the body. Therefore, Thai people will bend a little if they have to walk and everybody else sits, especially when the ones who sit are older than you. This is the way we show respect to the belief that having your head higher than someone else means that you are in a superior position to others.
- Don’t step over people– If everyone else is sitting and you need to walk by; do not step over a person or any part of their body. Instead please walk around.
- Keep your voice down when you are in closed public spaces– Thai people speak quietly when they are in closed public places such as in a train, bus, and elevator.
Learn more about Thai culture: