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Country Guide

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People & Culture - Thailand

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The country has a population of about 60 million with about three-fourths of the population being ethnic Thais. There are many minorities to be found in Thailand with the largest of these being Chinese. Other races to be found include Vietnamese, Cambodian, Malays and hill tribes. About 80% of all Thais are connected in some way with agriculture, which (in varying degrees) influences and is influenced by the religious ceremonies and festivals that help make Thailand such a distinctive country. There is a great deal of influence from India, China and the rest of Southeast Asia that can be seen in the Thai culture. Thailand as a whole is dominated by a range of Thai speaking ethnic groups. All of them have made an impact on the culture of the country, with Central Thailand has seen the most impact. The Central Thai dialect became common throughout the whole of the country, in tandem with the various localised languages evident in various parts of Thailand. Buddhism is the predominant religion and has evolved over time to include many regional beliefs originating from animism as well as ancestor worship. As with any Asian culture, Thais respect their ancestors and have a strong sense of hospitality and generosity. Seniority is an important concept in Thai culture and elders have by tradition ruled in family decisions or ceremonies. Thai cuisine blends 5 fundamental tastes: sweet, spicy, sour, bitter and salty. Some common ingredients used in Thai cuisine include garlic, chillies, lime juice, lemon grass, and fish sauce. English is widely spoken in Thailand and there is a wide range of English newspapers and magazines in circulation.

Thais have a different social custom from the West where greetings are concerned. One of the most distinctive Thai customs is the gesture of bowing sawadee, instead of shaking hands. The wai is the common form of greeting and adheres to strict rules of protocol. Raising both hands, palms joined with the fingers pointing upwards as if in prayer, lightly touching the body somewhere between the chest and the forehead, is the standard form. The Thais regard the wai as both a sign of respect as well as a greeting. Respect and courtesy are demonstrated by the height at which the hands are held and how low the head comes down to meet the thumbs of both hands. The wai may be made while sitting, walking, or standing. The person who is junior in age or status is the first one to offer the wai. The senior person returns the wai, generally with their hands raised to somewhere around their chest. If a junior person is standing and wants to wai a senior person who is seated, the junior person will stoop or bow their head while making the wai. If there is a great social distance between two people, the wai will not be returned. The family is of paramount importance to the Thais. The Thais also place great emphasis and value on outward forms of courtesy such as politeness, respect, genial demeanour and self-control in order to maintain harmonious relations. Many of their rules of etiquette are by-products of the Buddhist religion. The Thai society is non-confrontational as a whole. To be openly angry with someone might attract the wrath of the spirits, which in turn could cause violence and tragedy. Loss of face is a disgrace to a Thai so they try to avoid confrontations and look for compromises in difficult situations. If two parties disagree, one will need to have an outlet to retreat without losing face.

Thailand is rightly proud of its rich heritage of arts and culture, and has made it readily available to the country's many visitors. By and large, the Thai culture is deeply rooted in historical and religious traditions of the Thai people, and it has a profound influence on the way of kingdom's life. Thais are very fond of the arts, which bear heavy influence from the Buddhist religion. In fact, they are rightly proud of their Traditional Thai music for instance, is a blending of musical elements from a number of cultures, such as Chinese, Khmer, and Indian. This applies not only to the instruments but also to the melodies. Therefore Thai music can be said to be derivative. Notwithstanding that fact, Thai music has developed into a distinct form, which is regarded as belonging to the 'high' musical cultures of Southeast Asia.

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