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Table Manners


Everyday Etiquette

Chapter II: Visit
Thai Social Etiquette, Ministry of Culture, by Sudchit Bhinyoying


From: Pensri Kiengsiri, Sudchit Bhinyoying, Malithat Promathatavedi, Thai Social Etiquette, Ministry of Culture, Bangkok 2007, ISBN 974-9681-45-2



There is an old adage in Thailand that 'Whoever comes to our house will be welcome.' This saying clearly portrays the spirit of hospitality long exists in the country.

Thus, many visitors 10 the country are often highly impressed to find that the Thais always smile and extend to them warm hospitality wherever they go. Being kind-hearted and happy by nature, most Thais find the presence of visitors a good will and therefore they respond positively to that gesture.

However, it is considered good manners for visitors to know what to do and not to do during the visit. As all visits start with visiting calls - - formal and non-formal - - let's divide the categories of visiting calls into Formal or Business. lnfomal or Home, and Royal Audience.

Formal or Business Visit

As soon as you decide that an occasion has arisen for the visit, perhaps within a month of the intended visit, a letter requesting an appointment for formal/business call must b sent, and if possible, a phone call may follow to enquire about the date and time of appointment.

On the appointed day, the visitor should arrive at the appointed place a little earlier, but not too early, for the visit. Granted the traffic congestion in Bangkok, the visitor may report to the secretary of the host a few minutes before the appointed time. The visitor may be ushered to take a seat in a room adjoining the office of the host. There he will wait until he is informed that he is being called in.

It is a normal practice to keep in mind the limitation of time and the workload of the host. A formal visit will not last very long. Introduction and pleasantries are exchanged with a cordial expression of continuing contacts. Then the visitor lakes leave.

Visiting cards may be exchanged, in addition to the one given prior to the visit. Modern business cards contain, in addition to the usual address and phone number a mobile phone and facsimile number and e-mail address.

A day or two after the visit, some callers prefer to write a letter thanking the host for the cordial reception, expressing his wishes to continue the relationship and contacts in the future.

Informal/Home Visit

Some visitors from abroad have expressed opinions that the Thais are not fond of inviting foreign friends to their home. They refer to entertain in hotels or restaurants, leaving their home life a mystery to the visitors. This isnot always true in many cases.

The reasons behind the reluctance to invite visitors to their houses may be the desire to please the visitors more. Thailand has a vast array of good hotels and restaurants where food and services are superb and at affordable prices. To initiate the visitors to the better taste of Thailand, the host may feel that it is an occasion to call for professional cooking and service in pleasant surroundings. Thus the entertainment mostly takes place not at home but outside.

Whether invited to the house or somewhere else, the visitor may bring in a little present for the host. In the olden days, the Thais always brought home-made food or desserts to the house of the host. Nowadays, modern social etiquette is more widely applied. So a bottle of wine, a hamper of fresh fruits and canned food, a pound or two of freshly-made cakes or a small tray of Thai traditional sweets is always appreciated.

Although punctuality may not be strictly observed as in the case of business call, the invitee should keep in mind not to arrive at the home of the host too early or too late. Arriving too early may bring embarrassment to the host and the hostess, as everything for your reception may not yet be properly arranged. Arriving too late may cause some problems. If the call is combined with a party, other guests may have already started their meals, thinking that, due to some unforeseen circumstances, you are unable to attend. There may be little food left on the table and as you have just arrived, the hostess may have to frantically find something to serve you.

The length of time to be spent at such informal visit depends on the wishes of the host. If there is no party involved, just a private call at the house of the host, fifteen to twenty minutes should suffice. If meals are provided and you know full well that the host needs to get up early for the next day, not more than three hours should be spent at his home.

Remember that good manners should be observed throughout the whole session. Sitting with one leg over the other knee or with legs stretching out may mean relaxation in Western culture, but in Thailand it implies impropriety or even disrespect. Talking with very active body language such as hand waving or arms and legs moving this way and that is not advised. Standing in close proximity to a seated elderly or more senior person in a manner called by the Thais as kham hua phuyai or towering over the head of the older person is something a well brought-up person will never do. Likewise, it is not proper to talk to the person sitting or standing away from you with more senior persons sitting or standing between the two of you because that will mean phut kham hua phuyai or talking with words flying over the head of the elderly.

Royal Audience

If you are called to a Royal Audience with Their Majesties the King and the Queen or any members of the Royal Family, contact the Bureau of Royal Household, the Office of His Majesty's Principle Private Secretary, Her Majesty the Queen's Personal Affairs Division, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhom's Personal Affairs Division, or Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn's Personal Affairs Division for the exact manners you have to undertake while under the Royal Audience.

Points to Remember

Although the outdoor temperature in Thailand is always on the high side, once inside a room or a building, it is always cooler than outside because of the airconditioning system. People tend to dress with materials suitable for that degree of temperature.

Locally made materials are beautiful as well as comfortable to wear. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see people of higher social position, especially the ladies, wearing clothes made of materials from upcountry regions of the country. The most popular material that can be worn on any occasion is Thai silk, which comes in various colours and textures. Some are suitable for men's suits and some for ladies' dresses.

Newcomers to the country normally have to call on dignitaries or social and business contacts. The first impression they create in the eyes of the hosts is very important. The way they dress not only portrays partial characteristics of the wearers but also an expression of respect to the hosts. Here in Thailand, modern western style suits and dresses are accepted, unless otherwise specified.

Chapter II Visit, taken from:
Pensri Kiengsiri, Sudchit Bhinyoying, Malithat Promathatavedi, Thai Social Etiquette, Ministry of Culture, Bangkok 2007, ISBN 974-9681-45-2


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