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Politeness in Thai and Filipino Cultures

Politeness in Thai and Filipino Cultures
on February, 20 2014

In many ways, Thailand and the Philippines are similar when it comes to how they value the culture of being polite. There are certain rules observed when it comes to greetings, corporate communication, dealing with the elders and what to do when in public. These practices have long been observed in both countries and until now, they remain relevant.

How to Greet Politely

The general greeting in Thailand is “Sawadee.” When saying the word, it usually comes with a gesture called “wai.” In doing so, you must clasp your hand as if you are about to pray, placing them closer to your chest and then slightly bend your body forward. The same thing is done when asking for an apology from someone. If the mistake committed is more serious, some others even bend down on their knees.

In the Philippines, there are many ways to greet someone. For elders, it is usually done by doing a “mano.” This is by getting the hand of the elderly and placing them on your forehead for a brief moment. For close friends, especially girls, it is done with a kiss of the cheek, also referred to as “beso” which is of Spanish origin. Hugging each other is also very common for friends of different sexes.

What to Do to Observe Politeness

There are a lot of do’s and don’ts when it comes to being polite in these countries. It is important to observe these practices especially when you are in public or in front of older people.

In Thailand, pointing something with your feet or mouth is considered very impolite. The feet should only be used for walking. Don’t sit with your feet pointing at someone. Be careful when crossing your legs as the other leg might point at the direction of another person. In the Philippines, the use of feet and mouth for pointing is quite common. Even eyebrows are used to signify agreement towards something. Just be careful not to stare at someone in the eyes for a long time as it is considered a challenge and is quite rude. It usually ends up with a fight. Don’t place your hands on your hips as well since it signifies anger.

Thailand observes the “Les Majeste” law. This means that no one is allowed to say anything against the king. It is subject to penalty and imprisonment. The royal family is also treated with much reverence. When they pass by, everyone has to stop. If your money fell on the floor, don’t step on them. Pick them up with your hands. They contain the image of their king and it is rude to step on them. The Philippines is freer when talking against the government. However, at home, speaking with parents or the elders should be done with utmost respect.

Use the words “po” and “opo” in the Philippines to express politeness. In Thailand, say “kha” for the girls and “kap” for the boys. “Na” is another expression that can be used at the end of each sentence. These words don’t mean anything, but in using them to complete a sentence, it shows how polite you are. Just be careful in observing correct grammar when using “po” and “opo”.

The old people are treated with high respect in both countries. In the Philippines, you are supposed to speak with them in a mild manner. Helping them cross the street or find their way home is a common practice. In Thailand, when speaking with older people, you must stand when they stand and sit when they sit. Don’t look up or look down to them when talking, as it is very rude.

In a modern world where the culture of politeness is slightly fading away, it is great to know that these two countries were able to preserve such practices.

Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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