How the typical Thai lifestyle fits perfectly into the New Normal

Veena Thoopkajae




For most, the New Normal is a phenomenon that will take a bit of getting used to. And some people will find it incredibly challenging to adopt and adapt to this new way of life. But for most Thais, the New Normal is not that much different from what they normally do in daily life. In fact, the similarities between the New Normal and the Thai way of life are so great that a lot of Thais are not really frustrated by it. You might even hear some saying, “what New Normal? I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember!”

Take a look at how the typical Thai lifestyle fits seamlessly into the New Normal practices.

No touching, just Wai

The iconic gesture of putting two hands together between the chest and bowing, known as the Wai, is a general and widely accepted way of greeting among Thais. Body 4contact is very minimal, even non-existent, and it is considered improper to touch other people unless you’re particularly close to them, or the situation requires tactile contact. The Wai is a way of saying hello, goodbye, thanks and even sorry. No need for a firm handshake, stepping in for a hug, leaning in for a kiss on the cheek or even considering which gesture to go for in certain situations – Thais just do it all with a Wai. Members of the typical Thai family do not embrace each other and hugging is generally alien to every family unit and across society

Distance means respect 

If you’re in a presence of Phoo Yai (someone of authority, seniority or worthy of respect), it’s polite to keep a distance. Even when you’re walking with them, you maintain distance and don’t talk straight to their faces. Kids are taught not to stand “too close” to a Phoo Yai, unless they are called to come closer. Being physically too close to a Phoo Yai or a complete stranger is seen as disrespectful, threatening even. 

A monk leads a group of ordained boys on a socially distanced walk.

No shoes in the house 

Feet (and shoes) are considered lowly and dirty, which in most cases they are. Shoes are kept by the door, farthest away from everything inside the house and a lot of Thais wash their feet when they first arrive home. It is also believed that dirty feet bring filth and bad luck from outside into the home. In the old days when Thai people walked around barefoot and many of them worked in the fields, every Thai house would have a small water jar at the entrance for the residents and guests to wash their feet before entering. Taking off one’s shoes and walking barefoot inside the house became the norm for all Thais and continues today. 

Daily shower(s) is a must 

While on the topic of cleanliness, showering is a daily practice that Thais religiously adhere to, not only once but at least twice a day. It’s general practice to take a shower in the morning before going out, and again at the end of the day before going to bed. It’s perfectly fine to take more showers during the day, especially when it’s really hot or if you get really sweaty, but it’s unacceptable to go through a day without a single shower! 

A young boy taking a bath, smiling to the camera.

Washing hands, a tradition from the old days

In the old days, Thai people, like many of their Asian counterparts, ate with their hands. Rice and food were made into bitesize morsels and put in the mouth. So, it has always been quite normal for Thai people to adopt the habit of washing their hands, particularly before a meal. Thais started using spoons when the country began trading with other nations in the Ayutthaya era. So washing hands regularly is not a big deal and easily followed.

The common spoon 

Thai food is meant for sharing, and every dish to share usually comes with a serving spoon. It’s rude to use your own spoon to scoop the food in a shared dish. Firstly, it’s unhygienic. And secondly, you’re mixing up food from different plates, making them unappetizing. And this goes for all shared dishes of any type of cuisine, too. Don’t be surprised to see serving spoons in pasta dishes, salads or hummus when Thais are eating.  So next time you’re dining with Thai friends in a restaurant, do ask for a serving spoon if there isn’t one. 


Veena Thoopkajae

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