In Buddhist culture, the feet are the lowest and most unclean part of the body, while the head is the highest part of the body. Touching someone on the head, or shaking your foot, or pointing with your feet towards someone, is very disrespectful in this culture. To greet in a show of respect bow you head towards the person just slightly
Taboos exist on some parts of the body that have little significance in Western culture. For example, the head is regarded as the highest part of the body and you should never touch another person on the head.
By contrast, the foot is regarded as the lowest part of the body and you should take care never to point your foot towards anyone. This is an extremely insulting gesture! Try to get into Thai habits of sitting with your feet on the floor or tucked away under you. Even moving objects around with your feet is seen as very uncouth.
Thais regard the head as the highest part of the body, literally and figuratively. Therefore, touching people on their head is considered rude. In contrast, feet are considered the most degraded part of the body. Thus, using feet to point something to someone is regarded very rude for Thai people.
Journalists and guide books have written a lot of nonsense about the subject of touching the head of a Thai. The truth is that we don't touch the head of anyone anywhere in the world unless we know them quite well. To do so is an act of over-familiarity. It's no different in Thailand. Sure, for the Thais the head is the most sacred part of the body, but that doesn't mean that you can't ever touch the head of a Thai person of equal or lower rank. In particular, it is NOT considered bad behaviour to touch the head of a child or a baby, so long as your hands are clean.
In a spiritual as well physical way the feet are the lowest part of the body. That means you better do not put your feet on a table to slouch in a chair. Also donot point your feet to people's direction around you. And Thais believe in the same context (like Indonesians), the head is regarded as the highest part of the body; the most sacred part of the body! So, refrain from touching the head, even not ruffling their hair!
That's why it is strange to see people (tourists ofcourse ...) touching the head for some luck of the famous fat Buddha statues. Mostly located in museums these images can be in parks, too. I saw locals do touch the feet, or his belly and, preferred to do the same. I really do not know where the luck will come from ... ;-)
In Bangkok, it is unethical to point your foot on someone. It is also very impolite (actually, rude might be a better term) to have your foot higher than someone else's head. Also, it is customary for anyone to remove their shoes or other footwear when going inside a house, palace or museum.
As you might have heard it before. Here is Land Of Smiles. But it doesn't mean we don't get upset :-) we do.. and sometimes from reasons that you might not understand what you did wrong.
Keep your feet low
Wether you do it on purpose or not. Pointing your feet to anyone is considered very rude here. So, here are some examples I can think of..(most are from what I've seen tourists do here and that really bother us)
1) In The Temple
There're Buddha images in every temple (ofcourse) and you're welcome to go inside and walk around or sit inside the monastery. Question is how to sit.. well, just do not stretch your legs and point your feet to Buddha statue. (To be nicer, don't stretch your legs any ways at all, it's position that we sit on the beach, watching TV at home, chilling out in the public park.. stuff like that)
So question is how to sit? Sitting with typical meditation position is very OK.
2) On the bus, train, boats
Again, we're not happy when someone points his/her feet to anywhere there're people sitting around. For example.. in the bus or boat that might have many seats left in front of you and it seems OK to put your legs there (like resting your legs on the working desk)
But it is not OK. People hate it. There'll be no one comes to you and say "hey, don't do that" because on the other hand we know that visitors "don't know" so it's forgivable. But deep down. I can tell you, everybody here hates it.
Safest way, keep your feet lower than knee-level. Don't point them around.
3) In the park
Here, you can take it easy. We're not crazy about spotting tourists feet :-) you can sit however you want. Just make sure there're no other people lying around too close to where you'll stretch your legs. Because it means your feet will point too close to their heads which is unaccpetable (again! what a fussy country!) :-)
While in Thailand or bangok, you should respect the way other Thais treat each other. Here are a few Thai etiquette tips
- respect religon
-respect the King and the royal family. Never say anything that could be construed as criticial about them.
-the government plays the Thai anthem on every day at 8 am and 6pm. Before all sporting events and movies the anthem is heard. Please stand up for this.
-Please dress respectively
-never point toes at a Buddha image
-women should not approach or talk to monks, unless stated somewhere (like monk chat or they come to you)
-Don't touch anyone's head
-Don't pass things with your left hand
-Always keep cool and never loose your temper. You and the person you are talking to will loose face. Losing face is a major issue in Asia. It's very disrespectual.
-Don't wear shoes in a long Thai's houe or in a bot (at a wat).
Remember to always take your shoes off before entering the following places:
A Wat (Temple)
A straw floored restaurant
Also know that it is EXTREMELY rude to point the bottom of your feet at people. This is very important throughout Thailand. Always pay attention to how you are sitting to make sure you don't accidentally point the bottom of your feet at someone (it's like giving the middle finger in the states). AND ESPECIALLY NEVER point your feet bottoms at a shrine or Buddha image.
It is considered rude to point the sole of your foot at another person, so try to avoid doing so when sitting opposite someone, and following the concept that the foot is the lowest limb, don't point your foot to show anything to anyone.
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