The most common verbal greeting is “Sawatdee-krap” if you are a man or “Sawatdee-kah” if you are a woman. It means “hello”, but it can also be said when bidding someone goodbye. Instead of shaking hands, Thais greet each other with a “wai”. A wai is done with both hands raised, joined palms and fingers pointing upwards, between the chest and forehead. The wai is both a greeting and a sign of respect. The higher the wai the most respect is conveyed. There is a chance that the wai will not be returned if there is a great social gap between two people. Also, the lower-status person should be the first to be addressed. The wai is not used to greet children, servants, or street vendors. In Thailand, even Ronald McDonald greets with the wai gesture!
Thais are generally indirect communicators, especially because the concept of ‘face’ is deeply rooted in Thai culture. Therefore, bluntness is not appreciated and should be avoided, particularly when communicating with those of higher status. Thai people will try very hard not say something that will hurt or offend someone, and in business scenarios criticism should be done privately. In the land of smiles, a single smile can bear a wide range of emotions; it can be a greeting, express an apology or embarrassment, and signify a thank-you.
Personal Space and Touching
Thais prefer to keep a distance of approximately three feet between each other when talking to strangers, but this distance can be shortened when interacting with friends. Touching people of the same gender is more common in Thailand than in some Asian countries. Nevertheless, public displays of affection between couples are not common, and touching someone of the opposite gender is taboo.
Eye Contact and Gestures
Direct eye contact is expected during conversation, as it shows attentiveness. However, while speaking with those of higher status it should be averted. In Thailand, the head is sacred, and it is not to be touched or to pass something over someone’s head. Feet, on the other hand, are considered the lowest part of the body, not just physically. Feet should not be used to point at others as they are considered dirty.
Additionally, Thais do not gesticulate much during conversation, therefore using too many hand gestures, can be seen as aggressive.
Thai Culture Reference Guide
Thai Population in the United States
Professional Thai Translation Services
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Thai Language Services
The Thai language, originally called Siam, changed its name to Thai when the country was renamed Thailand (it was previously called Siamese). Thai is the official and national language of Thailand, but not the sole language of the country. Around 72 languages are spoken regionally, some mutually intelligible, some not. Therefore, Thai serves as a lingua franca since it is spoken by over 80% of the population as a first or second language.
Mostly spoken in the north of Thailand, this dialect has had its influence in the language spoken in the Kingdom of Lanna, which was previously a country geographically located where the north of Thailand is based now. The dialect has a soft and pleasant sound, and its speakers over-use the rising and falling tones. Additionally, the vocabulary of the northern dialect differs from Standard Thai.
Due to the proximity of this region to the border of Laos, the dialect has many similarities to the language spoken in Laos. Laotian, the official language of Laos, shares its origin with the Thai language, since both belong to the Tai-Kadai large language family. Out of all the four dialects of Thai, the northeastern is the hardest for a non-local to understand.
Also known as Standard Thai, it is the most common dialect used by Thai speakers or those who are learning the language. It is mostly used in the central area of Thailand, specially in and around Bangkok. Central Thai is the dialect used in school, the media and by the government.
As the name suggests, this dialect is spoken mainly in the south of Thailand. Therefore, and due to its proximity to Malaysia, it carries certain influences of Malay. It differs from Standard Thai in vocabulary, mostly. Southerners are known to shorten the words into single syllables and sentences into one or two words and are usually regarded as fast speakers.
There are four different dialects of Thai, that vary regionally. Nonetheless, the language contains register variation as well, depending on the social context.
There are five distinct social registers:
Street Thai – informal speech, usually used among friends
Elegant Thai – official version, used in newspapers and when addressing strangers
Rhetorical Thai – mostly used for public speaking
Religious Thai – used when addressing monks or discussing Buddhism
Royal Thai – used to address or discuss the royal family and their activities
61 million people speak Thai worldwide. The language is mainly spoken in Thailand where it is the official language. Additionally, it is spoken by a significant number of people in the neighbor countries of Laos and Cambodia, in Singapore, the Midway Islands, United Arab Emirates, and the United States.
Countries Where Thai is the Official Language
The first wave of Thai immigration to the United States took place after the start of the Vietnam war and around 5,000 Thais had emigrated to the U.S. by the 1970’s. As of 2015, it is estimated that a little under 300,000 Thai Americans were living in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Additionally, there are over 150,000 Thai speakers in the country. There is even a Thai town, located in East Hollywood, the only one of its kind in the world, home to over 60 Thai businesses.
Leading states with the highest Thai American population:
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