The Differences Between Thai and American Culture

Man showing the differences between Thai and American culture
What are the differences between Thai and American culture?

Culture is the heartbeat of every society. It defines its people and gives them a sense of belonging. Each unit of society has its own set of values and practices that is uniquely theirs.

The United States and Thailand are two distinct nations. That is clear from a visual standpoint alone.

But what sets these two nations apart culturally? Here are some notable differences between Thai and American culture you may want to pick up on.

Eight Cultural Differences Between American and Thai Societies

American and Thai cultures belong on different ends of the spectrum. One is more diverse, while the other is more homogenous. These eight differences may give you some insight into what life is like in both countries.

1. Faith runs deeper in Thailand

Both Thailand and the United States guarantee religious freedom. However, you may observe Thailand has a predominant religion: Buddhism.

When you travel to Thailand, you’ll immediately notice the countless images and statues of Buddha. You’ll see them anywhere and everywhere, from buses to trains. You’ll even spot Buddhist monks walking around the country’s busy streets.

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Buddhism is deeply ingrained in Thai culture. Not only is it a religion, but for most Thais, it’s a way of life. Their faith guides them during decision-making, which may explain why many locals flock to temples and ask for blessings during life-changing events like marriage.

Many Americans practice different religions. However, faith isn’t as influential as it is in Thailand. When Americans encounter people of different faiths, they generally keep an open mind and remain respectful.

2. Extended family members are more distant in America

American family units tend to be small. Most households contain nuclear family members, namely the parents and children. Extended family members, such as grandparents, cousins, etc., live separately, with some even residing in different cities and states.

Little boy with a relative
The family is given great importance in Thai culture.

Thai people, on the other hand, generally have a collectivist mindset, particularly when it comes to family. This is why you’ll see many extended family members living with the main units in many Thai households. Many Thai children also live with their parents well into adulthood.

When Thai women get married, it’s not unusual for them to continue living with their parents. They may move out when they have their own family. In American culture, parents expect their children to move out of their homes as soon as they reach adulthood.

3. Saving face matters in Thai society

Thai people strongly believe in harmony. This belief is why many of them tend to “save face.” This expression refers to retaining respect and avoiding humiliation in public.

One “saves face” by choosing their words and actions carefully, especially with strangers. Even if they’re uncomfortable with the person they’re interacting with, they will be careful not to offend or let their feelings show.

Conversely, Americans are more straightforward with their thoughts and feelings. When they see something they dislike, they’ll say so, calling it as they see it. This may come as a surprise to Thais, who usually keep their opinions to themselves.

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4. The United States doesn’t have a monarchy.

This may be one of the more noticeable differences between Thai and American culture.

The United States doesn’t have a monarchy. The country is a democratic republic with a president as its head of state. Meanwhile, the Royal Family is highly revered in Thai society. If you’re on a trip to Thailand, you may notice images of the monarchy, especially the King and Queen.

Thailand guarantees freedom of speech. However, local laws consider negative online comments about the family a crime.

A snapshot of the Grand Royal Palace
When you travel to Thailand, you’ll observe how the locals respect the monarchy.

If caught, a person can face a prison sentence of up to 35 years. Stay out of trouble and avoid making inflammatory statements about Thai royalty on social media.

5. American culture emphasizes individual freedoms

Individuality and independence are key marks of American culture. Once a person turns 18, they’re expected to be on their own and live without parental supervision. In contrast, because Thai society is collectivist, Thai people will generally consult their family when making important decisions.

6. Flavor palettes differ

Thai food has complex flavors. Most dishes have a blend of sweet, salty, sour, and spicy tastes. Vegetables, herbs, and spices form the basis of most recipes, which are commonly served with rice. Locals usually employ wok-frying when cooking food, making them relatively healthy.

American food generally has a salty-sweet flavor palette. Most dishes use meat as the main ingredient and are typically served in large quantities. Frying and deep frying are common cooking methods, which may concern health-conscious individuals.

7. Thai society values hierarchy

Social hierarchy and respect are highly valued in Thailand. Traditions expect locals to dress in modest clothing, especially when they enter temples.

When they encounter people in high positions of power, they should greet them with a wai, an act of placing one’s palms at chest level. When they meet monks and royal figureheads, they place their hands higher to show them the utmost respect.

Americans don’t observe such a hierarchy. Most people usually greet each other through firm handshakes, especially during first encounters or in professional environments.

8. Contrasting culture in the workplace

Thai work culture prioritizes harmony, enjoyment, and respect among colleagues in the workplace. Hierarchy and seniority are also highly valued; younger employees generally defer to their older colleagues, even outside the workplace. Should they address a concern to their superiors, they deliver their statements carefully and soften their remarks.

American corporate culture typically focuses on productivity and efficiency. Employees are expected to work without much supervision to achieve their targets. If Thais generally refrain from speaking directly in the workplace, Americans tend to share their thoughts openly while remaining professional.

If you plan to travel to Thailand from the USA, then learning the differences between Thai and American culture is a good idea. Adjusting to different environments is a challenge, but it’s simply part and parcel of a good and memorable travel experience. When you understand and respect a foreign country’s culture, it will help you appreciate your own culture as well.