Thailand’s Society, Family Structures, the Wai - Thailand's traditional Reception, Leisure Time and Thailand’s Cuisine.
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Society, Family Structures, Leisure & Cuisine in Thailand
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(A small selection of Thai dishes at a food-stall in Bangkok)
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The Thai Society
Thailand is a hierarchical society in which thanks to the believe in the Karma the social status of the people is untouched. A person who has a high social position has acquired this in its previous lives. The important one has to look after his subordinates (for example workers or employees) and his less moneyed relatives. In return he receives respect, obedience, thankfulness and loyalty. The social position and the age is decisive for the behaviour of the Thais among one another. Generally the oldest or socially highest ranking person receives the most respect. Many details in behaving among one another depends on the social status and /or the age of the people attending. This is reflected in the family, the circle of friends and in the working life. It also explains the believe in authority, favouritism and the partly undemocratic structures in the Thai society. Thus every Thai makes an effort to knot an big harmonic net of relations. For example the important are not over bothered as by this a relation could be destroyed which one day could become important.
Also plays the extremely big need for harmony and avoiding of conflict a mayor role. "Djai-yen” – keep cool – (literally "heart-cool”) is one of the highest "precepts” in Thailand. Things that are unchangeable are accepted as such to get excited does not change anything - what you cannot change is accepted! "Mai pen rai”- doesn’t matter – will every Thailand holidaymaker hear many times. Also the famous smile of the Thais is a tested mean to avoid conflicts. "Don’t do anything to me and I will also do nothing to you. A smile very often brings more than a bored excuse. Who has no answer to questions or does not want to criticise keeps silent and smiles. Even in the Thai parliament this behaviour as been observed. As we Farangs (western foreigner) stand outside the social Thai net of relations, the relations mainly are mostly short and often have a material background, we cannot expect great loyalty. In fact is the hat taken off to us, alone because of our affluence which goes along with a good karma but in case of doubt understandably the more loyalty is brought against their fellow countrymen.

Thai Family Structures
In Thailand there is a much stronger company in the family compared to our western culture. Often live several generations under one roof. The parent’s house for example is bequeathed to the youngest daughter, she together with her husband in return accommodate her parents when they are older. The oldest man of a Thai family is the patriarch, the other family members have to act in accordance with his decisions. In Bangkok every days live adapts more and more to the western developed nations but in the country the old traditions continue to exist almost unchanged. As a tradition a Thai man has to meet the whole family of the bride and get the total consent before he can get engaged. Only then he can propose to her parents for the hand of their daughter. Do both families agree the date for the wedding is fixed. But the date for the wedding is delayed until the groom has finished his apprenticeship. The bride’s parents get bride-money from the groom, a kind of compensation for the upbringing consisting of natural produce or money. Many a time this is returned to the bridal couple on the wedding day. In the country the newly married often stay with their parents until they have the first child.

Greeting in Thailand – the correct Wai

Although in Thai business- and government circles meanwhile shacking hands has become accepted the traditional reception in Thailand still is the Wai. The execution of the "right” Wai is for us Farangs not easy to understand as it depends on the relation of the people to each other. The Wai must be understood as a highly important sign of reciprocal demonstration of respect. In normal cases the palms with outstretched fingers in breast height are held against each other the thumbs pointing to the body. Furthermore you slightly bow. The younger one respectively the one who has the lower social status always greats first, the senior or more important one answers with a lower Wai: by this the palms are held little lower in front of the breast as the younger or less important one does. The heights of the palms is the most crucial criteria of respect to be demonstrated to the opponent. The higher the more respect is paid. Thus no Thai will use a Wai for reception or leave-taking with children, servants or beggars. Only for members of the royal family, monks or as an obeisance to Buddha the finger tips are held over the eyebrows. Are important people welcomed the finger tips can be held in between the eyebrows, the thumbs at this can touch the tip of the nose.

As a role the following can be said:
With less important: Thumbs about on breast height.
With ones of equal rank: Thumbs about on chin level.
With important and older people: Thumbs on level of the upper lip.
With very important people: Thumbs on level of the nose tip.
With monks (and members of the royal family which you will even throughout a longer stay in Thailand only meet very rarely…): Thumbs on level of the eyebrows.

For the bows as a consequence thereof the same applies: the deeper the higher is the respect of the opponent.
A Wai is always returned unless there is a very big social or age difference in between the two persons. Then the more important or older one leaves the Wai unreturned. Also as a matter of principle the Wai is not returned by Buddhist monks (and of course not by members of the royal family). Apart from using the Wai as reception it can be used as thanks, adoption or excuse.

Leisure Time in Thailand

Football is probably the best liked sports in Thailand. But also badminton, basketball, table tennis and volleyball are very popular. Most notably people are seen everywhere playing Takro. At this, a very popular game in many Asian countries, two teams consisting of 3 players each play against each other trying to play the ball made of basketwork over the net positioned in the middle of the two playing fields. The ball must not touch the ground and has to be played over the net without the aid of the hands. Apart from football and Takro fight sports are quite popular, mainly of course Muay Thai the traditional Thai boxing. Going to the movies but also to fly a kite or Thai chess played under special rules and without queen also enjoy great popularity.

Thailand's Cuisine

- In general
Thailand has one of the best and richest kitchens in the world, it resembles the Chinese kitchen, but also has Malaysian and Indian influences.
In contrast to western culture, Thais do not differ between breakfast, lunch or dinner. Rice, the basic food in Thailand, is offered with almost every meal. Thus in Thai 'to eat' is called gkin khaao (eat rice), dishes are called gkap khaao (with rice).
In restaurants, hotels and bungalow-resorts in the tourist regions however, western breakfast is available everywhere.

- Thailand's Food

In Thailand normally only forks and spoons are used, only very rarely are knives offered. The meal is pushed with the fork, which is held in the left hand onto the spoon, which is held in the right.
In the northeast (Isaan) and the north of Thailand very often sticky rice (khaao niiau) is served, which is separated with the fingers on your right hand(!) into small lumps, which are then dipped into the various sauces. Chop-sticks are only offered with soup except in Chinese restaurants, where you get them with every dish. These are used to shift noodles, meat, vegetables etc. either onto the short soupspoon or directly into the mouth. Besides rice, meat and seafood, various types of fruit and vegetables are also served. There are various spices including among other things garlic, coriander, sugar, lemon grass, fish-sauces and -pastes, coconut milk and chillies. Often the traditional Naam Phrik, which consists of salty fish-sauce, lemon-juice, garlic, soya-sauce and small cut chillies, is served with dishes. Otherwise if necessary, you can spice up your meal, which is normal in Thailand, especially with soups. Usually you will find spice-containers on the tables, which contain at least red, dried chilli-powder, fish-sauce, sugar and vinegar. The possibility of a western dish in the main tourist areas including Ko Chang exists, however one should consider the more expensive prices, since many added ingredients need to be imported.

- Thailand's Snacks and Sweets

The Thai kitchen offers various delicious snacks and sweet foods, not only deep fried pastries, dried squids and grilled meat-sticks but also small cakes, grilled bananas, deep fried pineapple and much more besides, let Thailand become a true food-paradise.

- Fruits in Thailand

There is an abundance of fruits in Thailand above all there is bananas, papayas, watermelons and coconuts which are always available. In addition, you find apples, pineapples, durians, mangos, strawberries, jackfruits, lychees, pomelos, rambutaan and much more besides, depending upon the season.

- Beverages in Thailand

Besides water, tea and coffee many other alcohol-free beverages are available, such as soda water and almost all western soft drinks just like fruit juices and shakes, milk and Soya-milk. Beside Thai whiskey (Mekhong) and rum (Sang Som), the local Singha-beer is everywhere to be found. Chang-beer enjoys a larger popularity and also European beers such as Carslberg and Heineken are available in almost all restaurants and supermarkets. In many bars and restaurants it is possible to drink wine, western liquor, long-drinks and cocktails, which are very expensive however compared with the local spirits.

- Vegetarians in Thailand

Being a vegetarian is not always easy in Thailand, since traditionally almost all Thai-dishes contain either meat or seafoods. Many restaurants offer tofu or cook meat- or fish-free dishes on request - and a vegetable fried rice can be found everywhere.

Sources: Microsoft Encarta Weltatlas 2001, Data Becker Lexikon 2002, Kauderwelsch Band 19 - "Thai Wort für Wort" by Martin Luttherjohann.
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