Being Polite In Thailand

February 5, 2020

No one wants to be rude when visiting another country. I can’t imagine the embarrassment of being a guest somewhere and accidentally offending people with either what I say or do. Ignorance shouldn’t be an excuse as you should always do some research before visiting to be extra sure of any local customs. To help you with just that, we will be looking into being polite in Thailand. More specifically, we will look at being respectful when speaking. There are a few different ways in which you can show politeness in Thai, so be sure to take note.

How To Be Polite In Thailand

This is an often asked question for people looking to visit Thailand, which is great to see. For a visitor to the land of smiles, some of the customs and general etiquette might seem a bit different from you would find at home. Some things are easy to understand, such as not showing the bottom of your feet as it is considered very rude. Who would want to look at dirty feet? Also, turning your back to a Buddha statue or being under dressed in a temple is seen as disrespectful. 

When it comes to the language, however, things are a bit more complicated. The idea of polite words can be confusing. These aren’t words like thank you, but instead words you add to the end of a sentence to show politeness. This is a major concept to learn when studying Thai.

What Does ‘Krub’ Mean?

This is the polite word for males. By adding the word ‘krub’ (ครับ) to the end of the sentence as a sign of respect.

What Does ‘Ka’ Mean?

This is the polite word for females. Just add the word ‘ka’ (ค่ะ) to the end of the sentence to show respect to whoever you are speaking to.

Polite Pronouns In Thai

As we have looked at before, your choice of pronouns when referring to someone should represent your relationship to them. If you are a male and have a close female friend, you may refer to them as ‘ter’ (เธอ). If you are a female and need to refer to yourself in a formal situation (around your boss, for example), you would use ‘dichan’ (ดิฉัน).

Responding To Greetings

For example, how should you respond to a Thai person saying 'good morning'? Very much like in any other language, reply back with your own greeting. In most cases, however, you wouldn’t say ‘thank you’ like you would in English. Instead, you would use the polite word which would have the same effect.

If you want to reply to someone who says ‘thank you’ to you, you can reply with ‘mai pen rai’ (ไม่เป็นไร) which would translate as ‘no worries’. Alternatively, you can use the phrase ‘yiin dii’ (ยินดี) which is a bit more polite and formal, translating to ‘pleased’. In either case, be sure to add the Thai polite word at the end.

How And When To Wai

Another thing that I see get asked a lot is ‘why do Thai people bow or pray when saying hello?’ If you have read a previous post about Thai greetings, then you will know that this action is called a ‘wai’ (ไหว้). This can be translated as ‘paying respects’, which works well a summary of its purpose. 

It involves making a prayer like gesture by putting your hands together and raising them up to chest/face height. The higher you raise your hands and bow your head forward, the more respectful it is. 

Of course, it is not something that is done in every situation where you meet someone. Instead, it is for more formal occasions. As a rule of thumb, if someone does a wai to you, you can do it back. While Thai people will likely not expect a visitor to wai, I am sure they would smile if they see you do it. 

Learning Polite Vocabulary In Thai

Overall, there is nothing too surprising when it comes to being polite in Thailand. Some customs are a bit unique and different from what you would find elsewhere. By being generally mindful and observing others, you should not face any issues. When it comes to speaking, it may take some time to start including the necessary vocabulary - the polite words and pronouns - in your speech. With practice, you will be able to visit Thailand with no worries.

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