Thailand and America are two distinct parts of the world, both uniquely famous for their culture and monumental role in the era of modernization and globalization. From different traditional and religious backgrounds, Thai and American people have quite different approaches to life and society.
So, how is Thai culture different from American?
Religion, family relations, royalty, hierarchical structure, language, and local food all play a role in the underlying distinction between America and Thailand. Due to differences in governmental ruling and a strong language barrier, the culture between both countries is of two separate identities.
Undoubtedly, both countries belong to different parts of the spectrum, with one very much culturally and religiously inclined to a singular identity of Thainess and Buddhist identity. On the other hand, those in The States live amongst people of various backgrounds and nationalities, binding together to create a larger community of diverse individuals.
7 Cultural Differences between Thai and American
1. Religion is More Obvious in Thailand than in America
Although America is home to various religions, it is less noticeable to the eye. Religion is an essential part of Thai culture, economy, tourism, and society in Thailand. You can easily spot the signs on trains, buses, and on your walk down a busy street (1). From Buddha statues, colorful sceneries, and Monks that await their seats in traffic, you will be embraced by Buddhist tradition.
Monks play a visible role in the daily life of Thai people, where they happily discuss religion as the priority of their lives. However, in America, religion is most of the time invisible – while people hide behind their approach to life and God, it is not something that is discussed alongside work, economy, and everyday affairs (1).
For this reason, Thailand protects their religion as a religious identity; it plays a role in their daily life, and if someone interferes, it is considered disrespectful. Kids are taught from an early age to demonstrate respect and pay their prayers to Buddha (1). Whereas, kids in America are encouraged to be adventurous, explore, and embrace their religion as they grow older or attend weekly visits to nearby churches, temples, or mosques (1).
Although the culture might be extremely distinct, with Buddhists holding a minority-based population in the states, Americans respect the Thai religion upon visiting the country. Kids point out candles used in Buddhist temples and visit shrines and statues to respect Buddha’s teachings (1).
2. Extended Families
A common difference between Asian countries and America is joint-family living complications. Under tradition, both East and South Asian countries value the importance of extended family members (1). In that case, families stay in the same household for an extended period. Arranged marriages and love marriages are both common in Thai culture, as is the importance of the wife moving into the groom’s house and being introduced to the entire household (1).
Contrastingly, dating culture is common in America, where couples present their families much later on and end up living alone and distant from the rest of the family. It is also expected that American family units are usually small, consisting of a mom, dad, and their children. This extends to grandparents, cousins, and other relatives (1).
‘Royal’ is not a common word in the states. As a democratic nation, America follows a different political structure, with a president and vice president at the head (1). Conversely, Thailand is a monarchy, deeply entrapped within a royal culture of luxury and hierarchical standards (1).
Wherever you go in Thailand, you will see pictures of the royal family, especially the King and Queen. However, it is not every day that you would see Biden’s face plastered all over the streets of New York.
A massive difference is freedom of speech. Clearly, in America, people have the right to say what they wish about the government, whether with how they cast their vote, tweet a remark, or openly have political discussions on social media (1). Whereas in Thailand, you can be jailed for up to 35 years for making negative comments about the royal family on social media. Additionally, you are never to mock or make jokes about the King (1).
4. Respect and Hierarchy vs. Equality
Thai people value respect and social hierarchical relationships, while Americans value equality in their usual practices.
While Americans value equality between genders, nationalities, and ethnicities, they also hold high regard for independence. This means that Americans often give respect where it is earned, mostly regardless of class and gender; however, that might not always be the case (2).
On the other hand, respect is automatically earned for people of a higher rank in Thailand. For example, The Thai Royal Family must never be criticized; this includes their pictures, the King’s anthem, and political opinion. It is even disrespectful to step on a coin or money that shows a view of the King (2).
Respect in Thailand is also shown through gestures and clothing, which is not the case in America. Here, in the Thai nation, women are to be dressed respectfully when entering the temple, covering their arms and legs (2). In the same way, Americans dress respectfully when entering their respected religious institutions such as churches or mosques.
However, Thailand, which has an overall single religion, puts a higher value on this notion of respect. Moreover, when receiving, giving, or passing gifts (2). Thai’s bow their heads while placing the left hand under the right elbow. The most significant difference is that public display of affection (PDA_ is considered impolite in Thailand, whereas it is more common in the United States (2).
5. Careful Consideration for Words
Another significant difference between American and Thai culture is language and words. With English as the national language in the United States, it’s common for Americans to be outspoken and value social interaction (2). However, in the Thai context, it is not common to be spontaneous but to control your emotions. For Thais, an expression of negative emotion is considered an act of immaturity (2). For this reason, Thai people are soft-spoken, reserved, and polite, while Americans are straightforward.
It is safe to say that Thai food is healthier than American food. Served with spices, vegetables, and little meat, Thai cuisine is trendy worldwide for its unique flavor and design (1). From Tom Yum to Papaya Salad, these renowned dishes have made a name for themselves across the globe. With hundreds of Thai restaurants in New York alone, you can find that America takes inspiration from various cultures and implements those cuisines into their everyday food business (1).
As for local American cuisine, fast food is the way to go. Particularly famous for its burgers, pizzas, and pastas, western dishes have also been implemented into Thai food centers.
7. ‘Yes’ Does Not Always Mean ‘Yes’ in Thailand
Thai people do not pay close attention to facial expressions. However, they value the importance of group harmony and dignity. Thai’s generally try to protect their reputation, avoid conflict, and be polite (1). By doing this, Thailand prescribes a tourist-friendly persona. Thai people often agree to anything even if it is unattainable as they do not like to upset their guests or leave a wrong impression (1).
However, in American culture, people tend to say things as they see them. If Americans wish to say ‘no,’ they will. Facial expressions also play a role in how Americans respond to questions and interact with people around them (1).
When traveling to Thailand, it is expected that foreigners find it difficult to change the way they speak and aim to respect Thai traditions and culture. For example, there was an incident where a foreign customer was complaining loudly about the food in front of other customers. The Thai waitress was able to keep calm despite being targeted (1).
It is evident from all the facts that both America and Thailand differ a lot regarding different cultural components. Thailand is a country that values religious autonomy; Thai Buddhism is the most common and popular national religion, residing amongst the temples and palaces.
It is also a country that holds high regard for family values, local food, royalty, social hierarchy and pays close attention to the role of language and word choice. In contrast, America is more open to a freedom-based culture; the country is home to people of all kinds of religions, families, and hierarchies and has an open mind for languages.
Like always, if you want to learn more about Thailand, stay with ThaiGuider. You might discover something you never knew about this unique country.
1. Commisceo-Global. How Is Thai Culture Different To American Culture? Commisceo-Global. [Online] [Cited: January 20, 2022.] www.commisceo-global.com/blog/thai-culture-different-american-culture/.
2. Madison, Nathamon. 7 Top Differences Between Thai and American Culture. Thai Lady Date Finder. [Online] [Cited: January 20, 2022.] https://blog.thailadydatefinder.com/date-in-asia-thai-american-culture-difference/.