Thailand Taboo: 5 Ways to Mind Your Feet
In one of my recent articles, I talked about the Thai taboo of touching people’s heads, and today I want to talk about the complete opposite—the human foot. While the head is considered a sacred part of the human body, the foot is considered the dirtiest (as it probably is) and also the least sacred. This may have come about to be due to sanitary concerns of the past, but whatever the reason, it is a deeply imbedded part of Thai culture and is probably more apparent than the last Thailand taboo.
Here are 5 things to remember about feet when hiking around the Land of Smiles.
1. Take Off Your Shoes
You’d have to be pretty dense to miss this one. When you enter most Thai homes, and even many restaurants and shops, you will see a collection of shoes outside the front door. No, that’s not a new spin on Southeast Asian décor—you’re expected to take your shoes off. Even if a Thai insists you don’t have to do this, I still do, unless every one else is truly stomping around the house with their shoes on.
When in doubt, go with taking them off.
2. Don’t Point With Your Feet
Pointing with your feet can also get you in a bit of trouble, and most Westerners don’t realize how often we actually do just that. When our hands are full we will often use our feet to move an object, gesture at something, and possibly even pick something up if we are barefooted.
All not cool here in Thailand. If you can, avoid even pointing at people with your feet accidently, which can happen if you often cross your legs when seated.
3. Keep Your Feet Off the Furniture
It always kind of blows my mind when I see a foreigner throw their feet up on a table or anything, really, while relaxing in a restaurant, train, or hotel. In my own opinion, this is pretty rude no matter where you are—unless you’re in your own home, of course. In Thailand, it is a horrifying blunder—don’t do it.
4. Don’t Touch Anyone’s Shoes
People don’t want you touching their feet any more than they will ever want to touch yours, and this extends to shoes. So try to avoid picking up someone else’s shoes and handing them over or any nonsense like that. In a similar fashion, keep your shoes away from others—sounds easy enough, but a lot of backpackers do make a habit of stringing their extra shoes off of their backpacks when trekking around, and these can easily bump into people in crowded situations.
5. Never Point Your Feet at Religious Effigies
The whole foot thing carries on into the Buddhist temples, where you will definitely be expected to remove your shoes. When sitting cross-legged or kneeling, be conscious of where you point your stubby digits—definitely away from the statues of Buddha.
6. Don’t Touch Someone’s Head with Your Feet—Okay, Are You TRYING to Get Killed?
Okay, I’m giving you a hard time…kind of. Tying back into the last Thai taboo we talked about, keep your feet far, far, far away from other people’s heads. I don’t know why they would end up there anyways, but hey, it bears mentioning.
The worst thing you can do is touch the most sacred part of someone’s body with the dirtiest, most unholy part of yours. It’s the ultimate disrespect, and if you cross that line, you just might end up becoming the one taking a couple Muay Thai feet to the dome.
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