Invitation to a dinner with the Thai
Hospitality is the second nature to the Thai ethnic group, making a visit to a Thai home an unforgettable experience.

Associate Prof. Dr. BUI XUAN DINH


Hospitality is second nature to the Thai ethnic group, making a visit to a Thai home an unforgettable experience.

Guests are considered good luck for a Thai family. A Thai host would step down the stairs to welcome a guest with warm greetings. The guest is supposed to greet back nicely and right after that, to inquire after the host and other family members even if the two meet for the first time.

A visitor is always seen by Thai people as a guest of all family members. That’s why, if the purpose of a visit is to meet a particular person (especially a daughter or the wife of the host) rather than all family members, a guest is advised not to immediately ask about that person because he/she will be seen as to have dark intentions by the host. Instead, he/she must wait until the host understands the purpose of his/her visit.

After meeting the host, it is the right time for a guest who has prepared gifts to give them. It would be nice to have gifts for all family members. If not, a guest should give the gifts to the host who will distribute them. Or, it is also possible to give gifts to the oldest person or the youngest child in the family because the Thai respect elderly people and love children. Thai people see gifts as a way to show the heart of gift givers. Therefore, they do not attach importance to the quantity or value of the gifts. Instead, gifts must be suitable to each recipient.

After giving gifts, a guest should create friendliness by asking about the life of the family and villagers.

A guest will always be treated to meals even if the family is poor. When having a Thai meal, a guest should pay attention to a couples of rules (apart from seat and sitting rules mentioned in the previous issue).

First of all, there are a number of dishes a guest is not advised to eat, firstly, chicken, the indispensable dish in a Thai reception meal even if the family is poor. Yet, a guest is not suggested to touch the plate which contains the head, legs and internal organs of the chicken because this dish is placed next to a plate containing salt and chilies (fresh or dry) which symbolize the host’s hospitality. These two dishes are usually put in front of the host together with two small cups of wine called lau tay by black Thai and lau so by white Thai which means wine offered to the family’s ancestors, implying that the family has a guest. No one should pick up chicken unless the family has children who will be then given chicken legs. Adults should never eat chicken legs during a reception or ordinary meal. A guest is advised not to take drumstick to elderly people who will be then considered eating children’s portion. A guest is also not supposed to drink the two cups of wine offered to the ancestors, which will be evenly distributed to all people to get luck after the meal finishes.

A Thai reception meal always has wine. According to Thai customs, the host always offers a guest two cups of wine which imply that the guest and host are as one and that the guest drinks on behalf of his/her spouse to appreciate the host’s hospitality. That’s why, a guest is supposed to drink up these first two cups even if he/she cannot drink wine. After that, he/she may ask for permission not to drink if he/she cannot.

According to Thai customs, younger people are supposed to offer wine to other people. That’s why, a young guest should do this job during a meal. For the first offering, a guest is supposed to pour wine into the two lau tay or lau so before offering wine to other people, from the oldest to the youngest. After that, he/she no longer needs to pour wine into these two cups, but offer other people. When no longer wanting wine or unable to drink it, a guest is advised to ask for the host’s permission and other people to have food.

However, a guest is recommended not to take food before the host or constantly take only one dish, a sign considered by Thai people that the guest is voracious. Whenever taking a main dish, a guest is suggested to offer it to other people. In the past, Thai people used to have sticky rice in ordinary meals. But now, only when having guests that the family will offer sticky rice. While having sticky rice, a guest is supposed to take a big piece with hands, then pinching it into smaller pieces for dipping in salt. He/she is absolutely not recommended to dip the big piece in salt. A guest is also recommended to dip food slightly rather than deeply in a bowl of sauce.

A guest should refuse dishes which are not familiar to him/her in a nice way and ask to have them in another time without showing disgust.

Thai people consider meal a chance for drinking and talking rather than for eating. That’s why, a guest who pays more attention to eating than talking is considered trivial and voracious. Talks during a meal should be easy-going and relaxed stories rather than politics or about a particular person. The host usually sings to warm up the atmosphere and in response, a guest is recommended to sing together with the host and other people or clap his/her hands. However, he/she is not supposed to beat bowls and pots with chopsticks.

During meal, spitting or picking food out of the mouth with hands is a taboo to Thai people. When choking on food, a guest should go out, leaving the two chopsticks cross with the one on the right above the other if he/she will come back for the meal. If not, the chopsticks should be left the other way round. It is a taboo to turn down bowls and plates after finishing a meal, a sign that the attachment between the guest and host has ended or they will never meet again. A guest should express his/her thanks and ask for permission to finish the meal.

While staying in a Thai home, a visitor should not consider himself/herself a guest to create friendliness even if he/she is a busy and important person in the society. Instead, he/she is suggested to join household work such as cooking, washing dishes or fetching water which will make him/her closer to family members.

A guest should behave in a delicate and reasonable manner, especially with women in general, and widows or grass widows in particular. All words and behaviors by a guest must create trust and friendliness to family members because Thai people as well as other ethnic minority groups extremely dislike sham and abuse of emotion. If a guest shows these signs, he/she will leave the host with bad feelings and may be no longer welcomed if he/she comes back.

When parting the host, a guest should clearly say the reason for leaving, giving sincere thanks and best wishes to the host and other family members and expressing hopes to come back. In the past when there were not so many eateries, a Thai host used to prepare a ball of rice for guests. Now, the host usually offers a guest a gift, usually a specialty of the locality or family. A guest is recommended to take the gift with sincere thanks.-

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