How friendly are the Thai people


The people in the land of smiles

The population of Thailand is just above 60 million, of which over 10% live in the capital Bangkok alone. The growth rate is currently below 1.5%.

The Thai people make up the majority of the population, although there are several regional subgroups with their own dialects, such as Thai Yai (Shan) in the northwest, Pak Thai in the south, Thai-Lao and Thai Khorat in the northeast.

Due to various immigration movements in the past, there are also Chinese, Malay, Mon, Khmer and Burmese ethnic groups in different densities throughout Thailand. Most of the minorities are almost assimilated. Other minorities - various hill tribes from the north, Khmer, Laotian and Vietnamese refugees, and a small foreign community - make up less than 10% of the population.

About 60% of the residents live directly or indirectly from agriculture. The rural village with its connection to the agricultural cycle is still an important social unit. The urban middle class culture is just beginning to develop.

With at least 7 million inhabitants, Bangkok is by far the largest city. The next largest cities - Chiang Mai, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Surat Thani, Khon Kaen, Khorat, Hat Yai - hardly have more than 200,000 inhabitants. All major government, financial, industrial and economic activities are concentrated in the capital. This is slowly changing and there are initial moves towards decentralization.





The wai is the traditional greeting in Thailand.

The family is at the center of Thai life. Children, youth, marriage and death are described on separate pages.

Different hill tribes in the north of the country have preserved their own culture. The sea peoples live along the Andaman coast in the south.


  One of the most notable customs and characteristics of Thai is certainly the wai. It is the traditional greeting in which the two palms are put together with outstretched fingers and raised at about chest height. At the same time, the head lowers towards the hands.

This custom or the whole attitude behind it is useful in every respect for the Thai himself. Show him as a loving and amiable person, wherever he shows himself. It shows the polite and friendly nature of the Thai, the peace-loving nation best known for their tolerance and hospitality.



The wai

In order to get to know the people of a nation better, it is advisable to take a look at the customs and traditions of this people. These have mostly grown over generations and have thus become the epitome of the main characteristics of the respective nation.


  In fact, you meet the proverbial smile on every corner and on the most varied of occasions. If you are smiled at by a complete stranger on the street, apparently for no reason, this means in most cases pure friendliness, occasionally paired with a touch of respect for the well-traveled tourist. Occasionally, people smugglers and other dubious characters try to win the tourist's trust with a friendly smile in order to do business with them. With a little sensitivity and natural skepticism, however, in most cases it is possible to distinguish whether it is an act of kindness or hidden intentions. In the latter case, it is better not to smile back. If you happen to have a little mishap or make a little mistake, it is wise to smile yourself, which amounts to asking for forgiveness. The Thai can hardly resist the charm of a smile. Likewise, someone on whom such a mistake has been made shows his willingness to forgive immediately by smiling.

When Thai people smile in an argument, it is an attempt to appease the other person or prevent a worse conflict. It is better to accept this offer of friendship, otherwise more primitive contemporaries may be happy to resort to violence.

Even conflicts with oneself or embarrassing situations of all kinds are often covered with a smile, because the Thai do not tend to reveal their innermost being, not even to their closest family members or friends. The confession of inner impulses makes you vulnerable and you thus offer areas of attack that many a potential enemy could make use of. Thus grief, worries or problems are fought out with oneself and one makes a good face for the bad game.

Asking a favor from private individuals and government officials is far more likely to be successful if accompanied by a friendly smile. A petitioner with a serious expression, on the other hand, has little chance. The smile gives the person asked the feeling of being respected, whereas tough demands with a rigid, serious face intimidate or even scare them off. It is very likely that this request will then be rejected. Smile nicely and ask in a friendly, calm voice, that is often the way to success.

But the smile can also mean a rejection. If a request or question is honored with a mild smile, without a positive promise being made, the smile means "Unfortunately that is not possible", "Unfortunately I do not know", or something similar. The Thai hate negative rejections that can be perceived as deliberate humiliation. With a friendly smile, a rejection is wrapped up a little tastier, like bitter medicine is coated with a layer of sugar.



Land of smiles

In terms of national character, Thailand is known as the land of smiles. In any case, it is true that people are essentially hospitable, cheerful, and easy going. The proverbial smile is used on a wide variety of occasions and is something of a Thai trademark that you encounter there at every turn. On my first visit to Thailand, I understood what was meant by the smile of the customs officer at the airport. The saleswoman in the shop, the mail boats and the bank clerk smile; yes, everyone is smiling. Even the criminal who has just been arrested is smiling into the cameras of Thai journalists. Therefore, the Thai like to refer to their country as Siam Yim, translated Siam, land of smiles. In the west, too, Thailand is often identified with smiling, inviting faces, which of course can be easily marketed to tourists. The smile conveys the image of a harmonious, warm-hearted and friendly company.


  Because the Northern thai lived in a strongly feudal society in the past, they represent the image of charm, gentleness and courtesy. In addition, the Thai culture was shaped in the north, which is mainly based on religion and aesthetics.

The Southern thai however, are far more direct than anyone else. The southern Thai places less value on polite phrases, but is more inclined to act as he thinks. This relatively direct type is explained on the one hand by their sometimes strong feeling of independence, on the other hand by their natural wealth. Up until this century, the southern Thais, especially the Islamic population, never really felt they belonged to the rest of the country. Some Muslims want to join Malaysia or even want their own state. Fortunately, there is no terrorism or civil war-like conditions in southern Thailand, for example on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, where Muslims and Catholics live.

The residents of the Northeast are culturally a little less polished. In this wide, sometimes barren plain, a simple rural culture has developed that is characterized less by complicated politeness rituals than by reserved but warm friendliness. By their compatriots in the cities, but especially in Bangkok, the inhabitants of the northeast are decried as something like the rough country cousins, whom one does not like to bring home because they don't know how to behave. The occasional idleness of the world of these people is completely compensated for by their friendliness and their endless humor.

The residents Bangkok's are a mixture of everything. This is where the most distinguished, polite, elegant people meet with the quirky, unfriendly, scolding market woman. Nevertheless, compared to other metropolises of this size, Bangkok is world class in terms of courtesy.

The human warmth and friendliness of the Thai are only really conscious when you return to your own, performance-oriented, humanly rather cool country after your vacation.

The whole of Thai society, like those in other East Asian countries, is geared not to lose face. The loss of face is one of the worst personal disasters in a Thai's life. The exposure of his personality with all its dark sides amounts to a personal breakdown.

The Thai likes to hear something pleasant that makes them happy and cheerful. Whether it is true or not is not that important. It is all about the always desirable harmony with fellow human beings. So it's no wonder that the Thai tend to be flattery. The stranger also benefits from this, namely when you confirm for the umpteenth time that he speaks wonderful Thai or looks really great. To say "Well, your Thai is so straight" or "You don't look particularly good" would be a serious insult to the Thai.

For this reason, in Thailand one should refrain from making too direct, if sincere, statements. If someone answers the question "How do you like Thailand?", "The people there smile too much for me, the food is far too spicy and the heat can't stand a pig.", That may be his honest opinion, With which he could earn a certain respect in the West, in Thailand, on the other hand, overly direct, harsh, critical statements are not welcome.

Especially in the provinces, the stranger is sometimes viewed with admiration. The best recipe is to smile back gently. Certain Thai people ask the tourists all sorts of personal questions, but this has nothing to do with sheer curiosity, but rather shows attentive interest.

It is important to know that the Thai have a different mentality than the Europeans, but which must never be condemned as inferior or petty. Their national character is deeply rooted in traditional values ‚Äč‚Äčthat give the Thai a strong sense of identity and national pride. In their opinion there are in all probability also peculiarities of Westerners, which the Thai do not particularly like or which they also seem questionable.

More about mentality and lifestyle on the Life page.




In Thailand, too, decency is considered a virtue. The friendliness, helpfulness and hospitality of the Thai are pleasantly noticed by the strangers.



Last update of this page: 05/28/2004