DOING BUSINESS IN THAILAND
Religion & Social Hierarchy
Buddhism in Thailand is largely of the Theravada school. Nearly 95% of Thailand’s population is Buddhist of the Theravada school, though Buddhismin this country has become integrated with folk beliefs such as ancestor worship as well as Chinese religions from the large Thai-Chinese population. A major influence on Thai Buddhism is Hindu beliefs received from Cambodia, particularly during the Sukhothai period. Certain rituals practiced in modern Thailand, either by monks or by Hindu ritual specialists, areeither explicitly identi ed as Hindu in origin, or are easily seen to be derived from Hindu practices.
Muslims are the second largest religious groupin Thailand at 4.6%. Thailand’s southernmost provinces – Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and part of Songkhla and Chumphon have dominant Muslim populations, consisting of both ethnic Thai and Malay. The southern tip of Thailand is mostly ethnic Malays. Christians, mainly Catholics, represent 0.75% of the population. A tiny but in¬uential community of Sikhs in Thailand and some Hindus also live in the country’s cities, and are heavily engaged in retail commerce.
Thai society, like many others in Asia, is very hierarchical. Status can be determined by clothing and general appearance, age, job, education, family name, wealth, and social connections. As a general rule, a subordinate listens to, serves, and follows the directions of his or her superior without comment or question. In return, the superior takes care of the subordinate as a mentor of sorts.
Customs & Traditions
One of the most distinctive Thai customs is the wai, which is similar to the Indian namaste gesture. Showing greeting, farewell, or acknowledgment, it comes in several forms re¬ecting the relative status of those involved, but generally it involves a prayerlike gesture with the hands and a bow of the head.
- A notable social norm holds that touching someone on the head may be considered rude. It is also considered rude to place one’s feet at a level above someone else’s head, especially if that person is of higher social standing. This is because the Thai people consider the foot to be the dirtiest and lowliest part of the body, and the head the most respected and highest part of the body.
- When sitting in a temple, one is expected to point one’s feet away from images of the Buddha. Shrines inside Thai residences are arranged so as to ensure that the feet are not pointed towards the religious icons.
- It is also customary to remove one’s footwear before entering a home or a temple, and not to step on the threshold.
- Because of their religious discipline, Thai monks are forbidden physical contact with women. Women are therefore expected to make way for passing monks to ensure that accidental contact does not occur.
- One will not see Thai couples hugging, embracing, kissing, or any other acts of explicit a ection on streets or in public places. It is unacceptable by the norms of Thai society. And for that matter, any display of strong emotions in public, especially when inhered in loud speaking or noisy arguing, is considered as disrespectful.