Thai Language Blog

Thai Body Language, Part 2 Posted by on May 29, 2011 in Culture

Pointing with the feet

You’ve probably also read that the feet is the most disrespectful part of the human body. To show the bottoms of your feet to someone else is just rude. At first it seems a bit odd, but you’ll agree when someone with rancorous feet does this while sitting next to you. Anyway, let’s say you’re having an argument with someone. She’s smiling trying to appear polite and respectful of you, but at the same time covertly pointing her feet back at you. You walked away thinking you won the argument, and you didn’t even notice her feet did you?


Gesturing someone to come over

In western culture, there are several ‘come over here’ hand motions you can perform. For example, curling your index finger a few times. Thais do something similar. I figured this out right away, but some farang find it confusing. Hold your arm outwards, at a 45 degree angle pointing towards the ground. Have your palm facing the ground, and curl in your fingers (not the thumb) several times. If you have a Thai girlfriend, she’s bound to do this when she needs your money you for something.


The confirmation grunt

This one is hard to describe, but one way you can give a confirmation ‘yes’ is to make a grunting sound. It’s informal, so only do it with your friends. The pronunciation of the grunt is something like ‘ugh’, or อ่อ.


The subtle confirmation nod

Only those who have been with Thais for a very long time would be familiar with this one. It’s extremely subtle and takes years of practice to notice. This nod means ‘yes’, or ‘I agree with what you said’. I personally don’t like this gesture because if you blink, you’re likely to miss it. And if you miss it, you’ll think they just ignored your question – leading to a host of other misunderstandings.

An example of the confirmation nod . . . let’s say you’re at a restaurant waiting for the food to come, and your Thai girlfriend is busy chatting away on Facebook on both of her cell phones simultaneously (no joke, they do this). You ask, ‘it’s really hot today, no?’ Now watch her face very carefully, and you’ll notice that without moving her eyes away from her phone she extends her chin out towards you a bit and then back. You’ve just witnessed the confirmation nod. You might also see her eyebrows slightly go up.


The manly confirmation nod

This is much more common, and is just like the above subtle confirmation nod but much more pronounced and easy to notice. It’s always combined with the confirmation grunt. Only do this with your friends as it can come out a bit rude otherwise.


The smile

The smile carries many more meanings here in Thailand. Hey, it’s the land of smiles, eh? A smile could mean embarrassment, happiness, flirting, or just a friendly greeting. But it can also be used as a means of subtle insult – let me explain. Let’s say you directly insulted a Thai. If he is civilized, he isn’t going to insult you back. Instead, he’ll smile and simply say ‘thank you for your thoughts’, or perhaps ‘that’s ok, is there anything else I may help you with?’ He simply brushed you off like dirt on his shoes (which are pointing directly at you). Funny how one can be rude by being polite . . .


Do you know of any other Thai body language not mentioned here?

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  1. Claudio Sennhauser:

    Your observations are right on. So many subtle differences in body language worth paying attention to.

    To add to your section about “The Smile”, check out this blog post I wrote a while back:

    • palmisano:

      @Claudio Sennhauser Thanks. In your article, you should mark the tones on your words, and include a Thai spelling next to it, too.

  2. Claudio Sennhauser:

    I agree. I wrote it long before I had any grasp of tones, let alone Thai spelling. Thanks for the reminder though. I’ll update it sometimes soon… 🙂