October 22, 2017

Respect Thy Elders

Making nice with your in-laws is a universal rule. The specific manner in which you respect these in-laws, and any other individuals who are considered “elders” does matter, however, so please pay attention to this blog post if you know what’s good for you.

You may protest “But I do respect my grandparents, in-laws, aunts, uncles, and fairy godmothers!” Maybe you do; however, most westerners show the respect they feel for elders in ways that differ dramatically from the ways in which Thais show respect.

Think about the ways you show your grandparents, parents, ect that you love them. Maybe you joke with them, laugh with them, include them, email them, and invite them to family events. Many western families show their love for each other through loud arguments and uproarious conversation. Moreover, westerners in general seem to feel that the respect they feel towards elders does not need to be formally expressed; love and respect are believed to manifest themselves in small ways.

Thai culture has its own very specific way of honoring elders, and showing respect towards elderly friends and relatives is believed to be both a duty and the basis of good manners.

Thais show their elders respect in very specific ways. These include:

1) Greeting elders with a wai.

2) Never standing over or sitting above an elder.

3) Speaking in a quiet and respectful voice, and using formal language. This rule is often a problem for some westerners, as many western families show their love and respect for elderly relatives by including them in conversations and boisterous arguments.

4) Never interrupting an elder.

5) Treating the elder as an honored guest, rather than as a friend. Thais are hospitable people as a general rule, and they roll out the proverbial red carpet for elder guests with snacks, drinks, and other goodies.

As a general rule, individuals who marry into a Thai family should be aware that merely feeling and expressing respect for elders is not considered sufficient in Thai culture. Manners matter to Thais, and showing respect via the avenues outlined above are considered basic good manners – they are not an option, but a duty.