David Worboys – Traditions – to handle with care

An Inuit tradition accepts that emitting a brown cloud after eating suggests appreciation of the food served.

Thailand, alone in South-East Asia, was never colonised by Europeans. As a result, it has preserved many of its customs better than most. And there are clear rules concerning traditional customs, etiquette and basic good manners.

The soles of the feet are considered by Thais as the “dirtiest” part of the body. While it’s nice to know that they keep their bottoms clean, it is the feet that should not be pointed at somebody’s face. Care should be taken when sitting cross-legged to ensure that both shoes face downwards. Revealing the soles to somebody is as rude as indecent exposure (flashing) in Europe. Sticking your feet up on your desk or out of a car window is uncouth enough in Europe. In Thailand it must be tantamount to crapping in a swimming pool.

Conversely, the head is regarded as the temple of the body and should be respected as sacred and private. This may account for the absence of balaclavas in downtown Patpong. Touching someone’s head – even patting that of a child – is offensive. I guess it equates to bottom-groping in the West.

Thais should always keep their heads lower than that of anybody older or considered more important, including monks and royalty. How would this work out if the senior person is employed as a servant to the younger? And if Peter Crouch arrived at Bangkok airport, would he have to sink to his knees or take a deep bow every time he spotted a septuagenarian? In the office, management and staff must be alternately genuflecting and jumping up on to a step ladder if this custom is rigidly observed. As both age and status need to be respected, if David Attenborough were in town, everybody ought to be shuffling around on their knees. Or have I missed something?

In Thailand the monarchy is held in respect which borders on awe. Not only should he never be criticised or ridiculed but coins bearing his image should be treated with respect. Dropping a coin or stepping on it will not be considered amusing any more than the painting of a Hitler moustache on a portrait of Prince William or King Felipe.

In certain societies – not necessarily high ones – it is a sign of appreciation after a meal to eruct (burp) or, in the case of the Inuit people, to emit flatus (fart), but one must be careful here. I imagine the kind of prolonged throaty belch for which Neville Sharp gained worldwide recognition was not in the minds of those initiating this Chinese tradition. And presumably the flatus has to be of the dry and discreet variety rather than the fruity English pub version. Leaving the plate clean can indicate that you were not given enough. On the other hand, leaving some food uneaten can suggest it was less than tasty.

It´s usually a judgement call.

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Written by

David Worboys

Offering a unique insight into everything from politics to food to sport, David is one of the Euro Weekly News´ most popular columnists.