Cultural Insight - Significance of the Head and Feet in Thai Culture

Posted by Krabi Riviera
on 24 Nov 2017
Cultural Insight - Significance of the Head and Feet in Thai Culture

By now you may know a little more about the Krabi area and Thailand in general, but what about the people? Without trying to sound too redundant, but different countries have different cultures, and with the following blog posts we want to provide you with more insights into the culture of Thailand and its people.

A Few Words about Thais

Thais are considered very friendly, understanding and laid-back, so in case you make a cultural faux pas you will be easily forgiven most of the time. One of the mottos of the Thai people is “Mai pen rai”, which can be translated as “Don’t worry”, “It’s alright” and “Everything is okay”. They are aware that Westerners can’t know every single trait of their culture and they are also aware that tourism is crucial for their economy. How much the locals are influenced by those social and cultural norms may differ from area to area, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. So, by knowing how to avoid some of those faux pas and how to interact in an appropriate manner in “The Land of a Thousand Smiles”, you will certainly gain the appreciation and respect of the local people. So, let’s get started!

The Significance of the Head

In Thai Culture the head is revered as the most sacred part of the body, for this is where the spirit or soul is supposed to reside. The same reverence also applies to every inanimate object associated with the head like books for example. Books are known as a source of knowledge and therefore are closely related to the head.

With this in mind, it is important to know that it is considered rude to touch anyone’s head, including patting a kid’s head. Thai courtesy aside, you will quickly fall out of favor with the locals, so refrain from doing that at all costs. You should also try not to pass any objects over the head.

The Significance of the Feet

Whereas the head is considered the most sacred part of the body, the feet are the least important and dirtiest part. Knowing this, you should never point at or kick anything with your feet. Especially when it comes to pictures or symbols of the Buddha or the Royal Family, doing so is seen as extremely rude. Also don’t put your feet on chairs, coffee tables or books. This is because the feet should never be placed higher than the head. In the case of books, as we remember they are closely associated with the head.

If you happen to be in a local Thai restaurant, chances are you will be sitting on a floor propped with flat pillows. The proper way to sit down then is by pointing your feet away from others. You can do this by either tucking them to the side or behind you.

When you enter an establishment like a restaurant, shop or someone’s house, it is also common to take off your footwear. In case you are unsure whether to take your shoes off or not, then just have a look if you see other shoes lining up outside. That way you know when to follow suit or not. Also make sure not to step on the threshold when entering through a door. This is where the guardian spirit of the house resides and it is supposed to bring bad luck if you step or sit on it. As Westerners this belief may sound strange and overly superstitious, but as we mentioned in the beginning, it all comes down to respecting the different cultures.