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Culture & Identity of Thailand

Introduction

Thai Culture - Grand Palace
Grand Palace

Thailand is country that seems to have adopted technology much quicker than most countries and the people have been able to create the country as a business and tourist center. However, these cities and beaches only represent a small percentage of the people and their way of life.

Only about a third of Thailand's population lives in cities and the differences in the way of life from this urban population to those on southern islands dedicated to tourism, and the rural lifestyle of those throughout much of the country can be quite different.

For these urban dwellers life appears similar to that of Europe, Singapore, or Hong Kong. Many people have jobs that work regular hours, public transportation is convenient, and nearly everything needed is easily accessible. The way of life is often times determined by working hours, which tends to be from about 8:30 am to about 5:00 pm, and school hours, which typically run from about 7:30 am to about 2:00 pm.

Thai Culture - Playing Ping Pong at a Temple
Children in Bangkok

Life in the rural farming towns and villages can be vastly different from that of the cities. For many of these people, nearly 40% of the total population, their lives are based in the agricultural industries. In agriculture the daily way of life seems to be dictated by the sun, the weather, and the seasons. Here family and neighbors are depended upon to help during busy seasons and for much manual labor. This ties the family together with the community. However, wages are generally low and many families dream of sending a child to Bangkok, or elsewhere, to get an education.

Still others engage in various other ways of life; this is most noticeable in the tourist industries. While there are generally regular working hours, especially in the cities, on the southern beaches most jobs in the tourist industry are service jobs, such as housekeeping or cooking, as hours are more flexible.

Free time in Thailand is dependent on the individual and their jobs. For those in the cites with regularly scheduled jobs evenings and weekends tend to be filled with dinner, dancing, and other forms of entertainment the cities offer. For those working in the tourist industries time off varies from season to season, just as it does for many of the country's farmers.

No matter the location, occupation, or daily schedule of an individual, life in Thailand seems to revolve around family, friends, and community. This is best seen in the more rural parts of the country, but even in the cities many people work to support their families living elsewhere in the country.

Identity

The people of Thailand are fairly homogenous and their primary means of identifying is as Thais, which can reference their ethnicity and culture or country. The ethnic and cultural Thai identity is based on politics, the royal family, the Thai language, Buddhism, and the food, which is quite distinct and a source of pride in Thailand. The government, royal family, and these other aspects of Thai culture seem to define the Thai way of life and by some definitions to be Thai one must also live a cultural Thai lifestyle. Others (including most ethnic Thais abroad) limit this ethnically-based definition of being Thai at ethnicity (excluding most cultural aspects of this definition), so an ethnic Thai, no matter where he or she lives, and no matter the culture experienced, is still considered to be a Thai. For the politically-based definition of Thai, every citizen is included, but few people define the identity in this way. Among the minority groups, the Chinese are the largest and they tend to identify as ethnic Chinese; most of them also continue to speak their native language, eat their traditional foods, and follow other customs from China. Most other ethnic minorities also first identify with their ethnicity.

This page was last updated: May, 2014