Reloc8 Asia Pacific Group Logo

Do’s & Don’ts – Practical Information Guide

Australia Flag Pin

Australia

 
Australian Cultural Do’s & Don'ts

Believe it or not, Australian culture is nothing like the old beer commercials of the 80s or the stereotypical image of Crocodile Dundee roaming the Outback. Australia is actually one of the most diverse and urban nations on Earth.

It’s a dynamic, egalitarian and laid-back society, but there are some conventions that can be surprising to foreigners when they first arrive in Australia. So what are the cultural do’s and don’ts to be aware of?

Do’s

  • Try to be yourself. Australians are a pretty easy going and tolerant bunch and warm most to those who seem genuine and comfortable with themselves.
  • Equality underpins all social engagements so treat everyone as an equal, regardless of their social, racial or financial background. Be polite and show respect to everyone, otherwise someone might tell you to ‘pull your head in mate!’.
  • Reply with good humour if an Australian teases you. Only real mates ridicule so this actually means that you are accepted and liked. However, be careful about trying to do the same yourself – it’s a delicate art!
  • Drink with them (if you can) or get involved socially at work. Australians love to relax and enjoy themselves in casual settings and will bond quickly with people they ‘click’ with. So go for a drink after work, let them get to know you. Never use the opportunity to pitch for business in the bar.
  • Decide. Australians respect people who try and solve a problem themselves before asking. Take action rather than do nothing. Having an opinion your peers don’t like is better than having nothing to say at all.
  • Be punctual (or a couple of minutes early) to a meeting. Australians might be laid-back, but being late is uncool. Keep meetings efficient and never book a meeting on a Friday afternoon. However, if you are invited to someone’s house, it’s ok to be a bit late.
  • Buy a round or shout someone a drink – Generosity is appreciated, bludgers are not. In buying a round, one person will pay for drinks for the group (buy a round) and then everyone else will do the same. Don’t leave a group until you have bought a round. Always remember to buy someone a drink if they bought one for you. Equally, expect to share the bill at dinner with friends.
  • Respect the natural environment, wildlife and land of Australia. It’s definitely not OK to litter.

Don'ts

  • Expect a greeting of ‘sir, madam’ etc. You’re most likely to get a simple ‘mate’ whoever you are. This is a sign of acceptance rather than a sign of disrespect.
  • Tip. Tipping is not expected in restaurants but could be done for great service. If you do, don’t tip excessively: it could be seen as ‘big noting’ yourself.
  • Take offence if someone swears in front of you, even in a work environment.
  • Show off, be too brash or too flashy with money. Such behaviour and attitudes are seen as signs of superiority and are generally frowned upon. Australians take you for what you are and are less concerned about where you went to school, how you speak and what job you do. Australians suffer from ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’: their love of the underdog results in scorn for the tall poppy who is invariably cut down to size the moment they get too big for their boots.
  • Talk loudly on the phone. Or use your phone during meetings.
  • Mention divisive topics of Australian society (e.g. Indigenous affairs, refugees) unless you are approaching it with sensitivity and are prepared to hear adverse opinions.
  • Be combative or argumentative. Australians tend to avoid the company of people who are too opinionated.
China Flag Pin

China

 
Cross Cultural Tips for China

How not to make embarrassing mistakes in China? And conversely how to act in a culturally appropriate way and earn the respect of your Chinese colleagues and friends?

Chinese are very open and natural people, but they can appear to be reserved on first meeting.

Greetings

  • Even the initial handshake greeting may surprise you.  Most Westerners have quite a firm handshake, even women. Chinese, on the other hand, have a softer handshake and women a very soft, even limp grip.  We don’t suggest you adopt the limp handshake approach, but a moderate clasp will make your Chinese colleague feel more comfortable than a hearty shake.
  • Don’t hug, ever, unless with old friends whom you know feel comfortable hugging. And a kiss on the cheek is a sure way to make someone embarrassed. Don’t do it.

Meetings

  • Make sure you know who the most senior person present is and address most of your remarks to him/her.
  • Know how to handle a name card: pass with both hands and with the text facing the receiver.
  • Don’t flick your cards around the table as if you are dealing cards.
  • Don’t be too direct. Start the conversation with a good number of pleasantries.
  • If you have something difficult to say, try to couch it in a few more gentle terms.
  • Chinese may feel uncomfortable during a conversation with prolonged eye contact.  Move your gaze away every now and then and even focus above the eyes, around the forehead.
  • See your most senior guest to his/her car. This is a sign of respect. To see them off at the meeting room door may be seen as offensive.

Meals (we’ll discuss here meals with friends not banquets, since banquet etiquette is more complex. But some of these tips apply equally to banquet behavior).

  • Dishes are shared and generally placed in the center of the table.
  • If there is a dish you want it isn't rude to reach in front of someone to take from it.
  • It is rude to move the dish from somewhere else on the table to in front of you – although it is customary and acceptable  to swap dishes around.
  • If a morsel of food sticks to your finger, DON’T lick it off. Wipe it with a tissue or serviette.
  • If you drop some food onto the table cloth, ignore it, don’t move it or pick it up – even if it is terribly staining the table cloth.
  • When drinking, don’t drink alone. Always toast someone, even if by simply raising your glass at them.
  • When it comes to paying, the custom is NOT to split the bill. One person will be the host and pay the bill. Next time it can be you. It is customary to argue about who is paying, but in the end only one person pays. If it isn't you, make sure you reciprocate in the not too distant future.
  • And, tips are not expected, except now in very upmarket hotels. Generally, please don’t tip – you’ll “spoil the market”

Visits to a home

  • If you are invited to a home, accept if you possibly can. To reject the invitation could be interpreted as you don’t wish to go and you won’t be invited again
  • Take your shoes off at the door and be prepared to wear slippers that are offered to you
  • Take presents. Big. Not a token. Not simply a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates, but both and maybe a large basket of fruit too. Don’t be offended if the host takes the present without thanking you for it

Presents to avoid:

  • Clocks.  The word for clock is zhong.  Zhong zhong means death so giving a clock is not a good idea as a present.
  • Knives are not a good idea as a present.  Knives can cut or break the relationship.
  • Umbrellas (Yu San) are also not a good idea – since the word San means to separate.
  • Shoes (xie) are supposed to be unlucky, as there is another xie which means crooked or unreliable.
  • Items from your country that are readily obtainable for the Chinese.
  • Socially inappropriate gifts such as gifts that could be considered too personal, e.g. jewelry, perfume, soaps, clothing (except T-shirts, caps, scarves, ties)

And men should avoid giving gifts to women – unless they intend to indicate that the relationship is serious.

India Flag Pin

India

 
Greetings

  • Traditional greeting in India is the namaste and accompanied with a slight bow forward.
  • Men customarily do not touch women in either formal or informal situations.
  • Most Indian women will shake hands with foreign women but not with men.
  • Exchange of Name cards are not common in a non business situation and within the unorganised sector

Sexual Equality in the Workplace

  • Public display of affection is neither common nor considered proper.

Business Protocol

  • If an Indian smiles and jerks his head sideways, it could signal “YES” and not a “NO”
  • Showing anger is usually the worst way to accomplish almost anything in India.
  • Indians tend to usually be late for meetings and appointments. Best to understand and accept and not get disturbed.

Social Protocol

  • Whistling in public is considered very impolite.
  • Women should cover their heads when entering a temple.
  • Feet and soles of shoes are considered the lowest and dirtiest part of the body.
  • Best way to point is to use the full hand or your chin; never your index finger.
  • Indians love to talk and may even ask very personal questions and best not to take offence and may surrender minimal information to please the Indian host.
  • Invitations to Indian homes and also for family events is a common occurrence. Do visit if possible as that is a sign of immense respect.

Entertainment/eating Protocol

  • Never use the one-curled-finger method to attract attention.
  • Wash your hands before and after the meal. Use right hands only.
  • Never refuse food or tea from the host - Indians consider that an insult.

Sports

  • Talking about Baseball and American football will elicit a blank response from most Indians.

Taboo

  • The left hand should be used very sparingly.
Japan Flag Pin

Japan

 
Do’s and Don’ts (Cultural Faux Pas)

Being “On Time”

  • Being late is not acceptable in most situations.
  • Lateness will result in loss of trust.
  • It is best to show up to meetings and appointments a few minutes early. Some people dislike it if one shows up too early as they are not ready.
  • When invited to someone’s home, do not try to show up too early. Being on time or a few minutes late is acceptable. If you are going to be late, remember to call at least 10 minutes before the appointment.
  • Public Transportation such as buses and trains are very punctual in Japan though sometimes there are delays during the morning rush hour.
Eating/Drinking
  • Do not pour your own glass if you are with someone.
  • Someone must pour for you, and you must pour for others. Pouring for others is considered to be polite.
  • Never bring outside food/drink into restaurants, even a bottle of water. Water or hot tea is served for free. Food courts inside shopping malls are exceptions.
In Public
  • Throwing garbage on the street or smoking while walking is not acceptable.
  • There are only few trash cans, so one is expected to keep most of one’s own garbage and take it home. Smoke only in smoking areas or rooms.
  • Talking loudly at a restaurant and on the train can disturb others.
  • One should not talk on the phone at a restaurant or on the train as this is considered rude.
 Visiting Someone’s House
  • Wear socks or stockings when visiting someone’s house because it is necessary to take off shoes and it is rude to go in barefoot. If wearing sandals, make sure to bring socks.
Unwrapping Gifts
  • Do not randomly tear off the gift wrapping paper. Japanese consider that even the wrapping paper is a present so they will tear it neatly.
Korea Flag Pin

Korea

 
DO’s and DON’TS in KOREA

  • When invited to a Korean home, take off your shoes.
  • In most restaurants, you have to go to the counter after the meal to pay (except some hotel restaurants, you won’t be able to pay asking a waiter to come for payment.)  Sometimes there is a queue for payment.
  • In a business meeting, exchanging of name cards with 2 hands is appropriate with words of greeting. When departing, if the meeting went well, hand shaking is also acceptable.  From the second time meeting onward, shaking hands with the highest ranking counterpart is appropriate.
  • These days, shaking hands with women is also not too strange compared to the past.  However, in some locations outside of Seoul, it may not be very common to do so.
  • Unless you know the person already, addressing them by their first name is not common.
  • For business meetings, using Mr. and Ms/Mrs. with the surname is proper. Otherwise Mr. and Ms/Mrs. plus their title is common in Korea.
  • Don’t write someone’s name in red ink.  Names written in red means “dead person” for Koreans.
  • Don’t point at a person with your index finger.  Koreans would not appreciate it.
  • Don’t blow your nose during the meal.  Koreans are generous with tooth-picking but do not like it when people blow their nose.
  • Do not start eating until the eldest/highest ranking person starts eating. This is regardless of gender.
  •  When you are invited for a wedding or a funeral, an envelope with money will be appreciated. The amount of money will represent how close you are to the married ones, passed away person, or the family.
Malaysia Flag Pin

Malaysia

 
Cultural Do’s and Don’ts in Malaysia

Malaysia is pretty much laid back even when compared to other Southeast Asian countries like Singapore and Thailand. Being the 35th Happiest Country in the World based on the 2018 World Happiness Report (United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network), Malaysia is very welcoming of tourists and expatriates, and are pretty much unrestricted in what you can do here to have a good time (within acceptable limits of course).

Like any civilised country, the cultural norms are quite standard (like not punching anyone you meet on the road, no matter how irritated you may feel), and the red traffic light means stop, not go faster (no, motorcycles are not immune to this law). However with a country boasting of numerous ethnic groups, cultures, and religions, there are many cultural idiosyncrasies that are both unique but yet best to follow as to not step on anyone’s toes. Quick quiz, do you know that the “V” finger sign which is known as a symbol for “victory” has a totally different meaning in the UK as it is an insult!

Now we are not saying that you need to walk on eggshells whilst in Malaysia but by knowing the cultural do’s and don’ts, you may be able to integrate yourself better whilst in the country, gain a new insight into the mindset of the locals, and who knows, maybe get a good discount in Petaling Street when you start haggling in Malay!

Speaking
In the western world, being firm is a notable quality and by having a firm and loud voice, you are able to get your point across well. In Malaysia however, having a loud voice could be construed as being rude. The Malay culture especially have an affinity for lemah lembut which in English means gentle. This goes for speech as well as the Malay way of speaking has a gentle tone to it. It has an up down vocal inflection which gives it a benign tone. Western languages like English have a much stronger tone and again it could cause misunderstanding especially if the recipient is not well versed in your language.

Try to speak in a more gentle way, even if you wish to get your point across, try and do it without being blunt. That is another thing that is different in Malaysia. Malaysians do not like to give a hard no for example. Instead of saying, “I can’t provide the report to you today”, they will usually say, “I don’t think I can do your report, but I will try my best”, even when they know it is a definite impossibility.

Dressing
Despite having a climate like Hawaii, do not expect to see many bikini wearing, hula girls everywhere. In fact, you may be surprised to see Malaysians in long sleeved shirts and jeans in 35°C (95°F) weather! This is because Malaysians in general dress modestly and very rarely do you see locals wearing sleeveless blouses nor short skirts in public. Although Malaysia is a secular country, Islam is its official religion thus most locals adhere to modest dressing. We are not saying to come dressed like an Eskimo (unless you want to pass out) but it is advisable to wear loose clothing, cotton preferably because of the heat, and remember to wear a hat, sunglasses, and put on some sunblock.

Another great idea is to seek out and try on some Malaysian cultural clothing like the elegant Baju Kebaya, Baju Kurung, Cheongsam, or a Saree when in Malaysia. You will catch the eye of the locals (in a good way) and it will be a great conversation piece.

Greeting
A firm handshake is a wonderful way to greet another person. It is an almost universal form of greeting. In Malaysia, especially in the business world, the handshake is a great ice-breaker and can form bonds with strangers. However, there may be some differences we can relay to you when greeting someone in Malaysia. Because of the different ethnicity's and religions in Malaysia, there are different forms of greeting displayed. In the Malay culture, women generally do not shake the hands of someone of the opposite sex. It is best to wait and see if the woman offers her hand, then only shake it. Otherwise, a smile and nod would suffice. Some Malay men will not shake the hands of someone of the opposite sex, and again, wait and see if he offers, otherwise just a smile and nod would do. They are not being rude but as most Malays in Malaysia are Muslims, it would go against their religion to do so.

Handshakes are acceptable in most other cultures. Generous smiles are acceptable too for all Malaysians so go ahead and pass on your broad smiles to everyone you meet.

This list is obviously not exhaustive but is a simple guide to start your journey into the do’s and don’ts in Malaysia. Being a cultural melting pot, view these differences as positive aspects to discover and learn new things. Malaysia can be an awesome place for you to see things in a new light and discover that we are Malaysia, Truly Asia!

New Zealand Flag Pin

New Zealand

 
General Do's and Don'ts

  • Tipping is not common, and a tip will often be refused.
  • Be prepared to be formal until a relaxed atmosphere has been established
  • If invited out to celebrate a persons birthday, take a bottle of wine or some flowers for an adult – if it is a child’s birthday a small gift to the value of NZ$20 is a good idea.
  • If you are invited out to someone’s house for dinner take a small gift e.g. flowers, chocolates or a bottle of wine.
  • If you are invited out to a restaurant offer to split the bill with your host – this will not necessarily be accepted but it is polite to offer.  If you are out with friends it is a natural course to split the bill.
  • If you cause an accident in a restaurant – i.e. spilling water on someone, offer to do something to make the situation more comfortable.
  • If you are invited to a BBQ offer to take some meat or a salad.
  • Loud speech is considered rude and irritating.
  • Be sure to cover the mouth when yawning.
  • Ask permission before photographing anyone, especially the Maori.

Names and Greetings

  • Shake hands when meeting someone and leaving their company.
  • Wait for women to offer their hands first.
  • The Maori tribes people in New Zealand choose even today to greet each other with a gesture that seems to epitomise closeness and friendship – they rub noses.

Appointments and Punctuality

  • Prior appointments are advisable and visitors should try to be a bit early.
  • If visiting friends – it is a good idea to phone them first, not everybody welcomes unexpected guests.

Conversation

  • New Zealanders like to talk about national and international politics, the weather and sports.  They appreciate guests who have an understanding of their culture.
  • One topic of conversation to avoid is racial issues.
  • Do not include New Zealand as part of Australia or Australasia.
  • Good topics:  Rugby, Cricket, anything about New Zealand.
  • Bad topics: Personal questions, religion, nuclear energy.
Philippines Flag Pin

Philippines

 
It is fairly easy to relate with Filipinos as we are known to be a welcoming, friendly, and hospitable race. You will also find that Filipinos are highly emotional people. We nurture and thrive on interpersonal relationships. That said, you will observe that feelings of belongingness, acceptance, and approval whether between two individuals or in a group is important.

The moment you meet a Filipino, he or she will make you feel welcome and will go to great lengths to ensure you feel accepted and part of a bigger community.

For foreigners coming into the Philippines, it would be good to avoid the following faux pas in the situations below as you interact with the locals.

When you meet the same people in a hallway or in another room, you do not need to extend your hand again in greeting. One simply has to acknowledge the person with a simple greeting (“Hi, _____!”), a slight wave of the hand or a gentle nod, and give a warm smile.

Seniors, or those who are obviously oldest in the group, or the most important, are greeted first, seated first, and are allowed to enter the room first, and preceded in most cases by those who are younger or more junior.

Use academic, professional, or honorific titles and the person's surname until you are invited to use their first name, or even more frequently, their nickname. If it is customary in your country to call the person on a first-name basis, it would be good to remember to address the person accordingly when in the Philippines.

It is OK to discuss anything that reflects your personal interests and hobbies, or your curiosity about things Filipino like food, songs, language, and customs. Never discuss politics, current events, religion or any controversial subject if it can be avoided. Politely decline when invited to talk about those subjects.

While Filipinos are great conversationalists, there can be moments of passive silence. This is OK. When confronted with silence, the best approach is to remain silent yourself. Filipinos speak in soft, hushed tones. Speak slowly and clearly for the benefit of those translating mentally.

When attending a gathering, be it in a formal or informal event, never presume to seat yourself. Wait to be told where to sit as seating arrangements have been planned in advance. In most cases, the seating arrangement reflects the status of the individuals in the group, and the honor that is being accorded to guests.

When departing, it is important to say farewell to every individual present.

Business Meeting Etiquette
Appointments are required and should be made 3 to 4 weeks in advance. It is a good idea to reconfirm a few days prior to the meeting, as situations may change.

Avoid scheduling meetings the week before Easter due to the Christian tradition of Holy Week largely being observed in the Philippines. Also, around the Christmas season, a lot of parties, reunions, or family vacations have been planned out. Best to check with your colleague on their availability during these seasons.

Punctuality is expected. Despite what you hear about Filipino time, for the most part, your Filipino colleagues will be punctual as well.

Relationships & Communication
Filipinos thrive on interpersonal relationships, so it is advisable to be introduced by a third party. Whether in social or business gatherings, Filipinos will ensure you are not left alone to decide. Always wait to be introduced to strangers as it would be considered inappropriate most of the time.

Filipinos naturally hold high regard for elders, senior, or important persons in an organization. Initial greetings are formal and follow a set protocol of greeting the eldest or most important person first. A firm handshake, with a welcoming smile, is the standard greeting.

Remember how important relationships are for Filipinos. Thus, face-to-face meetings are preferred to other, more impersonal methods such as the telephone, fax, letter or email.

Send an agenda and informational materials in advance of the meeting so your colleagues may prepare for the discussion.
Do not expect the actual decision-maker to be present in the meeting as it is usually his/her staff or team members who are delegated to be there.

Avoid making exaggerated claims.

Always accept any offer of food or drink. If you turn down offers of hospitality, your colleagues lose face. It is important to remain for the period of social conversation at the end of the meeting.

Presenting the proper image will facilitate building business relationships. Dress conservatively and well at all times. Do not remove your suit jacket unless the most important Filipino does.

Business Negotiation
You may never actually meet with the decision maker or it may take several visits to do so. Decisions are made at the top of the company.

Filipinos avoid confrontation if at all possible. It is difficult for them to say 'no'. Likewise, their 'yes' may merely mean 'perhaps'. At each stage of the negotiation, try to get agreements in writing to avoid confusion or misinterpretation. If you raise your voice or lose your temper, you lose face.

Filipinos do business with people more than companies. If you change representatives during negotiations, you may have to start over. Negotiations may be relatively slow. Most processes take a long time because group consensus is necessary.

Decisions are often reached on the basis of feelings rather than facts, which is why it is imperative to develop a broad network of professional and personal relationships.

Taiwan Flag Pin

Taiwan

 
Taiwan reclaimed its throne in 2016 and has been ranked 1st again in quality of life and the 2nd best place for expats overall in InterNations' Expat Insider report for 2018.

While among all the favorable ratings such as the impressive health care, quality of life and friendliness, most of the expats still find learning the local language hard.  With the language barrier, some may find the local behaviors and the norms somewhat surprising.

Although cultural faux-pas will not end a relationship, trying to understand the culture may help to make your stay more enjoyable in Taiwan.

DO's

Business Etiquette

  • Exchanging name cards - After shaking hands, present your business card with both hands.
  • Do not throw your card down on the table. Always give a card if you have received one.
  • Dress appropriately – To show that you are serious and respectful to the people you are meeting with.

Greeting

  • Punctuality is appreciated, but being a few minutes early or late is acceptable.
  • A nod of the head or a slight bow is considered polite for the first meeting. Handshakes are generally only for males who are friends.
  • Introductions are important. Always wait to have a third person to introduce you. At a party or business meeting, wait to be introduced by the host.

Gift Giving

  • When presenting a gift, money, a package or a document, it is polite to offer it with both hands.
  • If someone gives you a present, it's best not to open it in front of them.
  • Things to avoid giving as a gift are: clocks, handkerchiefs or umbrellas as they imply sending one to a funeral; reason to cry; and to end a relationship.

When invited for a meal to someone’s home 

  • Take off your shoes when entering someone’s home
  • Wait for hosts to tell you where to sit.
  • Let elders sit down first.
  • Don’t start eating as soon as the food gets on the table.
  • You can drink from your bowl.
  • You can use your hands to eat foods like chicken and shrimps.
  • You can use a toothpick at the table, but make sure you cover your mouth with your free hand.
  • Compliment the dishes. Taiwanese love to eat and are really proud of their cuisine.
  • Chopsticks are placed either on the table or across the top of the bowl. NEVER EVER stick them vertically into the bowl
  • Don’t be surprised or refuse when the hosts place food on your table – It shows they are hospitable.

DON'TS

Top 6 Taiwanese Taboos

  • Don’t share a pear with your lover (it symbolizes a separation).
  • Don’t stab food with chopsticks (it means the offerings for the dead/ancestors).
  • Don’t wear green hats (someone’s wife is unfaithful).
  • Don’t cut hair in first month of the lunar year (it brings bad luck).
  • Don’t eat porridge on New Year’s Day (it brings poverty).
  • Avoid the unlucky number 4 (pronounces similar to death).

Misleading Expression

  • Don’t be confused when people say Yes = “maybe” or “got it”
    Rather than disappoint another, a person will often agree to do something. They will generally not say “no” and instead to say, “Understand and we’ll try”.
  • Smile – Is just a reflex in situations in which he/she feels embarrassed, anxious or uncomfortable.  They seldom mean the person is laughing at you.
  • Language Embarrassment - “neige-neige” often added in between conversation. It’s an absent-minded filler-word, like um or ah.  Although it sounds close to the rude epitaph sometimes called the “n-word”, but the likeness is merely circumstantial and no offense is meant.

Casual “Small” Talk

  • Don’t be surprised to be asked by people who don’t know you well with very personal questions.

Tipping

  • Tipping is not obligated in Taiwan, whether it’s in restaurants, hotels or taxis.  However, a small amount in a red envelope to your hair stylist, cleaning lady or chauffeur are appreciated during the big holidays like the Lunar New Year.

Receipts Lottery

  • Don’t throw away your receipts from shopping.  Taiwan government runs a program encouraging people to consume.  If all numbers on the receipts meets the winning ones, the grand prize is 10 million Taiwan dollars.  See if you are the lucky one.

Political Topics

  • Don’t talk about the Taiwan-China political issue unless you know your friend well. Some will get offended if you imply that Taiwan is China, while others will get offended if you say that Taiwan is an independent country. It’s never a win-win situation!
Thailand Flag Pin

Thailand

 
Objective:
To prepare the visitor to better deal with everyday situations and interacting with Thai people.

Benefits:
To avoid culture shock and frustration, and instead enjoy a pleasant and productive stay in Thailand.
The Thais are gentle and kind people who smile a lot, but the smile doesn’t mean they are always happy.
The Farang is a white skinned foreigner.  The Thais will call you Farang, which they mean in a nice way.

The Story Board:
I will use the anatomy of a person to tell the story, starting with the Head.

The Head:
Thais are very superstitious and believe in re-incarnation.  The head is sacred; that’s where the spirit lives.  So don’t ever touch the head of a Thai.   In fact don’t touch them at all.  They simply don’t like to be touched.

The Eyes:
There is something about the eyes that you may notice:
The Thais may not look you in the eyes when you speak with them.  That’s annoying to us but for them it is politeness. They would rather look down instead.

Listening/ Conversation:
The Thais pretend to understand everything you say. But they don’t.  You have to double-check that they have understood what you said.   To make it easier for them, don’t make funny jokes or try to be smart.  They don’t get it, and you only create misunderstandings or at worst insult them.   Avoid negative opinions and criticism.  Keep that for yourself.   If you are not happy or satisfied about something, you can say it in a calm, low tone of voice.  But never raise your voice.  That will get you nowhere – instead you lose face.  The reaction may be the famous smile – they are embarrassed.  Or worse, they are angry because they think you are angry when you raise your voice.  Don’t get yourself into such situations.  By all means don’t lose your head.  Stay calm.  Smile.  Or just walk away.

Thais want to know about you:
They are not comfortable unless they know:  where did you come from; how old you are; whether you are married; which school/university did you go to.  The reason is that they need to know where they stand with you. Even as a Farang they have to place you somewhere in society so they can address you correctly and show proper respect to you.

The polite Title and your Profession:
You are familiar with addressing people with Mr., Mrs., or Professor.  In Thailand it is the same. Quite formal. The difference is that the Thais are always addressed by their first name; the real one or their nickname, with the polite Khun in front of the name.  Khun could mean either Mr., Mrs., Master or Miss. The nicknames are short and take the names of an animal, a color, or the way you look; like Daeng which means Red, or Lek which means Small. Thais also like to be addressed by their title: Doctor, Professor or Teacher.

Pointing with Fingers and Feet:
Pointing at people with your fingers or feet is an absolute No No! It’s the worst insult you could make. Also don’t kick or move anything with your feet, or throwing things around.  That’s bad manners.

The Hands
The Wai (holding your hands together):
Thais say hello with a Wai instead of shaking hands, and you should Wai back to them. In hotels, restaurants and shopping malls, the staff would also Wai you just to be polite; but you don’t have to Wai them back.

The Appearance:
Thais are very particular about their appearance. They are proper and clean both with their dress and their grooming.  It is normal to take several baths a day and spend hours getting ready to go out. People in Bangkok are particularly fashion conscious and want to try anything new.  Although conservative in general, in this respect the Thais are not that reserved.

Respect:
The Thai society is still largely an Upstairs / Downstairs society with deep respect for older and senior people. Everybody knows their place in society. Teachers, in particular, are held in very high esteem.

The Religion:
The religion plays an important part in daily life, whether you are a Buddhist, a Christian or a Muslim. That’s normal. But what may be curious to Farangs is how fortune tellers, superstitious beliefs and spirits influence the behavior and livelihood of practically everybody at all levels in society.

The Royalty:
Thailand is a monarchy. Our late and beloved King Rama IX passed away in October 2016, and has been succeeded by his son King Rama X.

Common Sense:
As a last word, please always use your common sense and be careful, as you would be at home. Please stay out of trouble, and always follow the travel advice from your Embassy or local authorities.

Conclusion:
Thailand is a wonderful country, and I hope that these words of wisdom will help to make your stay more enjoyable and productive. I have been living and working with Thai people for 35 years, and still have a lot to learn and experience. It is a never ending journey, and a happy one, I can say.