thai superstitions and taboos

going through my stacks of paper again, looking for the easiest thing to post, and i found it:

thais are superstitious. in ways that i find particularly amusing. i guess every culture has its weird quirks, though.

i remember sitting in the english program office last year, and i sneezed, and one of the thai teachers made a comment that someone must be thinking about me.

getting a haircut on wednesday is supposed to be bad luck. so is using crutches when you’re healthy (i’ve done both of these). if you sing in the kitchen, you’ll have an old spouse.

i think i read that one of the reasons that thais have nicknames is to protect their babies after they’re born, so that the evil spirits won’t take them away. if they use a nickname, the evil spirits will get confused.  for the same reason, it’s bad luck to say that a baby is beautiful. better that you call it ugly and that the baby lives.

there are other superstitions that i’ve heard loosely floating around (if you look through your legs, you’ll see a ghost), but there’s also certain cultural taboos that you really should observe in thailand.  from what i’ve heard, many of these taboos originate from buddhism, in the idea that the head is sacred and the feet are dirty.

you’ve got to be careful about where your feet are pointing. crossing your legs and having the soles of your feet facing an elder or a buddha statue is unacceptable.  so is carelessly using your feet to nudge things or pick up things, which i’ve accidentally done.  definitely don’t pick up money with your toes or step on money, because money has the king’s image on it, and the king is another very highly respected figure.

feet taboos extend to shoes too: a lot of backpackers make a mistake about tying their shoes onto their backpacks and then their shoes go all wily-nilly touching everything.

stepping over people sitting on the floor is rude. so is stepping over books, which are respected in buddhism as sources of wisdom. conversely, touching people on the head is frowned upon, and bowing the head when passing elders or superiors is considered respectful.  i guess i haven’t written about the social hierarchy here yet; that’ll have to come in another post.

one last surprising thing about thailand, related to bowing the head: students constantly duck their heads in the hallways when they pass teachers, and when they come into the teacher office to talk to a teacher, they kneel in front of you. talk about something you’d never experience in america.


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