How foreign visitors to Thailand should behave to accomodate local customs is the focal point of many discussions here. However, recently our resident “Do’s and Don’ts” expert, Steve, showed us in his blog what happens when the table gets turned. He gave us an insight into what Thai people will have to watch out when their way of doing things clashes with that of a western culture.
I decided to add a few more pointers to his already excellent list.
If you become friends with a Farang of your gender, do not hold his/her hand. It may be a friendly gesture at home, but over here it’s likely to be misunderstood that you want to take it to the ‘next level’.
If you see a Farang goofing up in public (trips and falls, for instance), don’t laugh to ‘ease the situation’. You’ll be the only one to do so, and it’ll be perceived as an insult; your nose may be on the receiving end of a well-aimed Farang fist.
If you goof up, don’t just smile but do make an effort to apologize. For instance, if you spill the beer of a big fat Farang sitting next to you in the pub, the usual Thai grin will get your teeth knocked out.
Don’t think too much about Farang occasionally swearing. It’s not such a taboo as it is in Thailand. If you tell about a problem of yours to your friend, you may even get a sympathetic “awww, that sucks!”. Other times, you may hear “Dammit!” and “oh shit!” when something goes wrong. Contary to what you may think, it’s simply the equivalent of “saeng wa” in Thai. In general, do learn to distinguish swearing at you, from swearing in front of you. The former is an insult; the latter is not.
Do get used to Farangs yawning in your face, it’s okay there. However, don’t dig boogers from your nose in public: that’s not considered as okay here as it is back home.
BKK Metro users should know this already: please wait until passengers get out of the bus/elevator before you go in. You won’t get smashed between closing doors, trust me.
Eating in the West
Spoon is for soup only. Do get used to eating solid food with fork and knife. Try to get used to the horrible Farang custom of sticking a fork full of rice into your mouth.
When you are eating out with Farangs, make sure that you order all the food that you’d like. If you see one of your friends ordering your favorite food, don’t assume that he will share it with you, Thai style. Order your own portion as well.
Similarly, don’t put food on the plate of the Farang you are eating together with. Follow the selfish Farang custom: what you ordered is yours only.
Try to curb the Thai fetish for plastic bags, straws and rubber bands. Over there, when you buy a bottled drink, you will also receive the glass bottle as a bonus! Just imagine! … however, you won’t get a straw with it. Something gained, something lost, I guess.
Don’t be offended if you get some items, such as a bag of Oreo cookies, at the local store without an additional plastic bag either. Also, when you order food at a fast-food takeout, you don’t have to say “in bags, please”.
Do share your culture with the Farang around you. Chances are, at least some of them will be so impressed, they may want to live the rest of their lives in Thailand. It happened that way with the writer of this blog.