Studying abroad in Thailand teaches you to look at exotic cultures with a different perspective. Thailand business culture, Thai food, and local entertainment are all totally different from what you’re probably used to. But with a few helpful tips, you’ve got nothing to worry about when visiting Thailand.
What To Expect For Your First Impressions
First, the good news: Thai people are very relaxed, friendly and laidback. Business contacts in Bangkok won’t get offended if you commit some social faux pas. Learning your way around the Thai business culture does give you a huge advantage when making first impressions, though.
Don’t be offended if people ask lots of personal questions when they meet you. They just want to know where you sit in their social hierarchy to show you proper respect. Business cards are helpful since they clearly show your work title.
Building Business Relationships
Conducting business in Thailand is never straightforward. Instead, it’s important to develop a personal relationship with potential clients before you even start to talk about business. In many cases, the first meetings revolve completely around lunch and entertainment.
How can you create a good working relationship with someone? Smiling a lot makes a big difference. Keep things relaxed and positive and show sincere interest. While displays of public affection like pats on the shoulder or hugs are not common, you can show that you like someone with your friendly attitude.
How To Dress in Thai Business Situations
Work attire for Thailand business etiquette in Bangkok is formal and conservative. Avoid the bright and bold colors you’re famous for back home and opt for something less intense instead. Dark shades are acceptable and fashionable, as are grays and browns. The twist? Never wear black to the office. It’s reserved only for funerals.
Here’s a list of common business attire for Thai businessmen:
- Dark suits
- White, long-sleeve dress shirts
Try to choose materials that breathe like silk or cotton. Temperatures can get pretty hot year-round. It’s also totally acceptable to sling your business jacket over your shoulder when you’re walking around outdoors.
Women have slightly more flexibility with colors – except for bright red – when choosing outfits, but generally should stick to:
- White, gray or dark-colored dresses
- Knee-length skirts
- Formal blouses that cover shoulders and neckline
- Business suits with dress pants
The most important rule of thumb for both men and women? Always double-check your socks. You don’t want to have mismatches or holes showing through if you have to remove your shoes.
How To Greet People in Thailand
People in Thailand greet each other using the wai, which basically means holding both hands together – as if you were praying – and bowing your head. Knowing where to place your hands, and who should bow first, gets tricky, so it’s generally best to avoid this formal greeting until you’ve made a few local friends.
Fortunately, foreigners aren’t expected to perform the wai. Instead, just smile and nod your head slightly in respect when you meet someone new.
What To Do
- Laugh at yourself: If you do make a mistake, laugh about it. Thais are quick to forgive.
- Be subtle: Aggressiveness or directness is not appreciated. Correcting others hurts their feelings, keeping you from forming close relationships.
- Be polite: Don’t interrupt others and show common courtesy like offering to bring something to drink holding open doors for someone behind you. Small actions have a huge effect on the opinion people have of you.
- Show respect: Seniority is taken seriously, so when addressing a superior it’s always important to preface their given name with Khun – which means Mr., Mrs., Miss or Ms – in respect. If someone tells you their nickname, it’s OK to use that instead.
- Bring gifts: Something small as a token of appreciation is a great idea.
What Not To Do
Most potentially offensive actions are pretty easy to avoid using basic common sense; insulting or speaking negatively of Thailand or its king is really, really not a good idea, but you probably already figured that out.
- Embarrassment: Playful mocking is not common or appreciated. Don’t draw attention to someone’s bad hair day, for example. Saving face and having a good reputation is everything in Thailand.
- Buddha statues: Friendly looking Buddhas are not for hugging or selfies. A large number of people in Thailand are Buddhist, and they expect you to treat their religious objects with respect. There are actually laws about it.
- The head: Thais consider a person’s head to be sacred. That means not passing objects above someone’s head and especially never touching anyone’s head or hair; it’s extremely disrespectful.
- Superstitions: Don’t pass things with your left hand. Always give out business cards or gifts with your right hand.
- Meals: Eat with your spoon, not your fork. The fork is only to put things onto your spoon.
If you have an experienced guide by your side, or friends who’ve lived in Bangkok, navigating Thailand business etiquette and social customs is a breeze. Thais are very friendly, and as long as you’re just as friendly back, you’ll get along great with everyone.