Thai Culture

Thai Culture

Religion In Thailand is nearly 95% Theravada Buddhist (which includes the Thai Forest Tradition and the Dhammayuttika Nikaya and Santi Asoke sectors), with minorities of Muslims 6%, Christians 1%, Mahayana Buddhists, and other religions. Thai Theravada Buddhism is supported and overseen by the government, with monks receiving a number of government benefits, such as free use of public transport.

Buddhism Is strongly influenced by traditional beliefs regarding ancestral and natural spirits, which have been incorporated into Buddhist cosmology. Most Thai people install spirit houses, miniature wooden houses outside their dwellings, where they believe household spirits live. They present offerings of food and drink to these spirits to keep them happy. If these spirits aren't happy, it is believed that they will inhabit the household and cause chaos. These spirit houses can be found in public places and on the streets of Thailand, where the public make offerings.

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Customs

Thai greeting, the smile is an important symbol of refinement in Thai culture. The traditional customs and the folklore of Thai people were gathered and described by Phya Anuman Rajadhon in the 20th century, at a time when modernity changed the face of Thailand and a great number of traditions disappeared or became adapted to modern life. Still, the striving towards refinement, rooted in ancient Siamese culture, consisting of promoting that which is refined and avoiding coarseness is a major focus of the daily life of Thai people and high on their scale of values. One of the most distinctive Thai customs is the wai. Used in greetings, leave-taking, or as an acknowledgement, it comes in many forms, reflecting the relative status of those involved. Generally the salutation involves a prayer-like gesture with the hands, derived from the Anjali Mudra of the Indian subcontinent, and it also may include a slight bow of the head. This salutation is often accompanied by a serene smile symbolizing a welcoming disposition and a pleasant attitude. Thailand is often referred to as the "land of smiles.

Public displays of affection are not overly common in traditional Thai society, especially between lovers. It is becoming more common, especially among the younger generation.

A notable social norm holds that touching someone on the head may be considered rude. It is also considered rude to place your feet at a level above someone else's head, especially if that person is of higher social standing. This is because the Thai people consider the foot to be the dirtiest and lowest part of the body, and the head the most respected and highest part of the body. This also influences how Thais sit when on the ground—their feet always pointing away from others, tucked to the side or behind them. Pointing at or touching something with the feet is also considered rude.

Since a serene disposition is valued, conflict and sudden displays of anger are eschewed in Thai culture. For these reasons, visitors should take care not to create conflict or to display anger. Disagreements or disputes should be handled with a smile and no attempt should be made to assign blame to another. In everyday life in Thailand, there is a strong emphasis on the concept of sanuk; the idea that life should be fun. Because of this, Thais can be quite playful at work and during day-to-day activities. Displaying positive emotions in social interactions is also important in Thai culture.

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A display of respect for the younger towards the elder is a cornerstone value in Thailand. Often, Thais will deal with disagreements, minor mistakes, or misfortunes by using the phrase mai pen rai, translated as "it doesn't matter". The ubiquitous use of this phrase in Thailand reflects a disposition towards minimizing conflict, disagreements or complaints. A smile and the sentence "mai pen rai" indicates that the incident is not important and therefore there is no conflict or shame involved. Respect for hierarchy is a very important value for Thai people. The custom of bun khun emphasizes the indebtedness towards parents, as well as towards guardians, teachers, and caretakers. It describes the feelings and practices involved in certain relationships organized around generalized reciprocity, the slow-acting accounting of an exchange calculated according to locally interpreted scales and measures. It is also considered rude to step on any type of Thai currency(Thai coin or banknote) as they include a likeness of the King of Thailand.

When sitting in a temple, the normal procedure would be to make sure you point your feet away from images of the Buddha. Shrines inside Thai residences are arranged so as to ensure that the feet are not pointed towards the religious icons, such as placing the shrine on the same wall as the head of a bed, if a house is too small to remove the shrine from the bedroom entirely. It is also customary to remove your footwear before entering a home or the sacred areas within a temple, and not to step on the threshold. Monks are forbidden physical contact with women. Women are therefore expected to make way for passing monks to ensure that accidental contact does not occur. A variety of methods are employed to ensure that no incidental contact (or the appearance of such contact) between women and monks occurs. Women making offerings to monks place their donation at the feet of the monk, or on a cloth laid on the ground or a table. Powders or unguents intended to carry a blessing are applied to Thai women by monks using the end of a candle or stick. Laypersons are expected to sit or stand with their heads at a lower level than that of a monk. Within a temple, monks may sit on a raised platform during ceremonies to make this easier to achieve.

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Thai dining

Thai dining etiquette is traditional and proper behaviors of Thai people used while eating. Since Thai society have a lot of big families, so having a meal together and sharing the food between members of the family is Thai traditional dining style. Generally, Thais eat rice as the main food and share the rice side dishes to another. Traditionally, in Thailand, people have a meal on the floor mat and eat the food with their bare hands. The rice dishes are on the outer circle while the shared dishes are in the center of the circle with shared spoons to transfer the side dish food to their own rice dish. In the reign of King Mongkut (Rama IV), King Chulalongkorn the Great (Rama V), Prince Chulalongkorn at that time, was educated by an English woman, courted Western diplomates and leaders and travelled abroad, observe and learn the western dining and he found out the fork and knife are not suitable for Thai food (no need to chop anything, he introduced the fork and spoon handy and so begun the use of cutlery in Thailand. Thais use the fork to push the food onto the spoon (right hand), which then goes in your mouth instead of make the meat stable for the knife function. Nowadays, Thai dining is mixed with various countries’ dining cultures, so Thai people use a lot of styles now not only a spoon and fork, they also use chopsticks and sometimes a knife.

Arts

Thai visual arts were traditionally Buddhist. Thai Buddha images from different periods have a number of distinctive styles. Thai temple art and architecture evolved from a number of sources, one of them being Khmer architecture. Contemporary Thai art often combines traditional Thai elements with modern techniques. Traditional Thai paintings show subjects in two dimensions without perspective. The size of each element in the picture reflected its degree of importance. The primary technique of composition is that of apportioning areas: the main elements are isolated from each other by space transformers. This eliminated the intermediate ground, which would otherwise imply perspective. Perspective was introduced only as a result of Western influence in the mid-19th century.

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Dance

Ram Thai (Thai: รำไทย) is the main dramatic art form of Thailand. Thai dance, like many forms of traditional Asian dance, can be divided into two major categories that correspond roughly to the high art (classical dance) and low art (folk dance) distinction.

Although the traditional Thai performing arts are not as vibrant as they once were, suffering inroads from Western entertainment and generally changing tastes, Thai dance drama is not extinct. What survives displays the elegance of an art form refined over centuries and supported by regal patronage.

Aside from folk and regional dances (southern Thailand's Indian-influenced Menora dance, for example), the two major forms of Thai classical dance drama are Khon and Lakhon nai. In the beginning both were exclusively court entertainments and it was not until much later that a popular style of dance theater, Likay, evolved as a diversion for the common folk who had no access to royal performances.

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Music

The Music of Thailand includes classical and folk music traditions, e.g., Piphat and Mor lam, respectively) as well as string or pop music. Thai classical music is synonymous with those stylized court ensembles and repertoires that emerged in its present form within the royal centers of Central Thailand some 800 years ago. These ensembles, while being deeply influenced by Khmer and even older practices and repertoires from India, are today uniquely Thai expressions. While the three primary classical ensembles, the Piphat, Khrueang sai and Mahori differ in significant ways, they all share a basic instrumentation and theoretical approach. Each employ the small ching hand cymbals and the krap wooden sticks to mark the primary beat reference. Several kinds of small drums (Klong) are employed in these ensembles to outline the basic rhythmic structure (natab) that is punctuated at the end by the striking of a suspended gong (mong). Seen in its most basic formulation, the classical Thai orchestras are very similar to the Cambodian (Khmer) pinpeat and mahori ensembles, and structurally similar to other orchestras found within the widespread Southeast Asian gong-chime musical culture, such as the large gamelan of Bali and Java, which most likely have their common roots in the diffusion of Vietnamese Dong-Son bronze drums beginning in the first century. Traditional Thai classical repertoire is anonymous, handed down through an oral tradition of performance in which the names of composers (if, indeed, pieces were historically created by single authors) are not known. However, since the beginning of the modern Bangkok period, composers' names have been known and, since around the turn of the century, many major composers have recorded their works in notation. Musicians, however, imagine these compositions and notations as generic forms which are realized in full in idiosyncratic variations and improvisations in the context of performance.

Thai Nicknames

Thai people universally have one, or occasionally more, short nicknames (Thai: ชื่อเล่น name-play) that they use with friends and family. Often first given shortly after birth by friends or an older family member, these nicknames are overwhelmingly one syllable (or worn down from two syllables to one). Though they may be simply shortened versions of a full name, they quite frequently have no relation to the person's full name and are often humorous and/or nonsense words. Babies may be given a nickname of a relative or named for a characteristic of birth, e.g., "little". Traditionally, nicknames would relate to things of low value, e.g., "dirt", which was to convince evil spirits lurking in the vicinity that the child was not worthy their attention. Today this folk custom is on the decline. Some common nicknames translate into English as "small", "fatty", "pig", "little", "frog", "banana", "green", or "girl/boy". Though rare, sometimes Thai children are given nicknames in the order they were born into the family (i.e., "one", "two", "three", etc.). Nicknames are useful because official Thai names are often long, particularly among Thais of Chinese descent, whose lengthy surnames stem from an attempt to translate Chinese names into Thai equivalents, or among Thai with similarly lengthy Sanskrit-derived names. In recent years, English language words have become popular nicknames. Examples include: "Ice" (ไอซ์); "Bank" (แบงค์); "New" (นิว); "Ball" (บอล), and even "Beer" (เบียร์).

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Cultural Differences

When a Thai girl is upset with her Western boyfriend or husband about something,

When you are upset at your Western boyfriend / husband about something, we strongly advise you to resist your normal instinct to stay quiet, and just tell him about it directly. “How can I tell him?” you might ask. Don’t wait for him to ask you about it, because he won’t. He’s not a Thai man and so he doesn’t realize that you are shy. Instead – and this may surprise you – he actually wants you to tell him! We cannot even count how many Westerners have told us: “I wish she would just come out and tell me what’s wrong. It would help me so much to know, because I want to make things better for her. It wouldn’t offend me in the slightest.”

When Westerners have a disagreement or conflict, they prefer to bring it up for discussion directly. Although Westerners usually express their opinions respectfully, without fighting, sarcasm, or beating around the bush, there are times that conflicts can erupt into a shouting match that can shock Thai people. After the match is over, none of the participants feel that they have lost face, because Westerners do not see each other as socially higher or lower.

Marriage

Thai Buddhist marriage ceremonies are generally divided into two parts: a Buddhist component, which includes the recitation of prayers and the offering of food and other gifts to monks and images of the Buddha, and a non-Buddhist component rooted in folk traditions, which centers on the couple's families.

In former times, it was unknown for Buddhist monks to be present at any stage of the marriage ceremony itself. As monks were required to attend to the dead during funerals, their presence at a marriage (which was associated with fertility, and intended to produce children) was considered a bad omen. A couple would seek a blessing from their local temple before or after being married, and might consult a monk for astrological advice in setting an auspicious date for the wedding. The non-Buddhist portions of the wedding would take place away from the temple, and would often take place on a separate day.

In modern times, these prohibitions have been significantly relaxed. It is not uncommon for a visit to a temple to be made on the same day as the non-Buddhist portions of a wedding, or even for the wedding to take place within the temple. While a division is still commonly observed between the "religious" and "secular" portions of a wedding service, it may be as simple as the monks present for the Buddhist ceremony departing to take lunch once their role is complete.

During the Buddhist component of the wedding service, the couple first bow before the image of the Buddha. They then recite certain basic Buddhist prayers or chants (typically including taking the Three Refuges and the Five Precepts), and light incense and candles before the image. The parents of the couple may then be called upon to "connect" them, by placing upon the heads of the bride and groom twin loops of string or thread that link the couple together. The couple may then make offerings of food, flowers, and medicine to the monks present. Cash gifts (usually placed in an envelope) may also be presented to the temple at this time.

The monks may then unwind a small length of thread that is held between the hands of the assembled monks. They begin a series of recitations of Pali scriptures intended to bring merit and blessings to the new couple. The string terminates with the lead monk, who may connect it to a container of water that will be "sanctified" for the ceremony. Merit is said to travel through the string and be conveyed to the water. A similar arrangement is used to transfer merit to the dead at a funeral, further evidence of the weakening of the taboo on mixing funerary imagery and trappings with marriage ceremonies. Blessed water may be mixed with wax drippings from a candle lit before the Buddha image and other unguents and herbs to create a paste that is then applied to the foreheads of the bride and groom to create a small dot, similar to the marking made with red ochre on Hindu devotees. The bride's mark is created with the butt end of the candle rather than the monk's thumb, in keeping with the Vinaya prohibition against touching women.

The highest-ranking monk present may elect to say a few words to the couple, offering advice or encouragement. The couple may then make offerings of food to the monks, at which point the Buddhist portion of the ceremony is concluded.

The Thai dowry system is known as the sin sodt Thai: สินสอด. Traditionally, the groom will be expected to pay a sum of money to the family, to compensate them and to demonstrate that the groom is financially capable of taking care of their daughter. Sometimes, this sum is purely symbolic, and will be returned to the bride and groom after the wedding has taken place.

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Visiting the Parents (Western to Thai Culture)

When the western man takes his Thai girlfriend to see his parents, what does it mean to him? The answer is: not much! Western relationships come in many levels, from casual to serious. Westerners generally take their dates to visit home regardless of the level of the relationship. Thais would never waste their parents time by bringing so many non-serious boyfriends home! For westerners, the first visit home is an early step of the relationship. Why would any women not want to visit the family if she is invited? After all, it’s just a small gesture that she means something to him, that he cares for her. The westerner is completely unaware how significant and profound this move is in Thai cultural society.