The [Culture] ministry has recently reissued a booklet entitled “Thai Social Etiquette”. The booklet is written in English and offers visiting foreigners the usual tips about performing a proper wai, not pointing with the feet, and not patting the head. But it is much more wide-ranging than most such guides. It tells its readers how to sit, eat, lie down, walk, speak, dress, make a phone call, queue for the loo, drink, use a spoon, give a speech, pay a visit, and perform at a seminar.It is not really a handbook on what foreigners should do in Thailand, but rather a manual on how Thais should behave in their own country.It sums it all up like this: “In Thai society, where seniority is given much importance and politeness to everyone is stressed, in order to be a person with good manners, one must be aware and careful of almost every gesture or movement, and also of almost every word or sentence one utters.”…If you remove from the etiquette booklet all the advice that is really universal (eg, don’t eat with your mouth open), it has one clear message: hierarchy is everything, and deference is always due.
– Extracted from Chang Noi’s wonderful essay: “The culture of the cultural bureaucracy”, The Nation, 12 November 2007. Previous New Mandala coverage of the Culture Ministry’s various programs is available here.