Ten mistakes foreigners make in Thai restaurants

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I love FarangThis is an observation, not a rant. With this year’s second high tourist season from now into December in Thailand starting, incidents of mild culture clashes between Thais and farang are on the rise. Here comes an example.

Setting: Thai restaurant in Bangkok, Soi Prasanmit (Sukhumvit 23), one of those mid-range eateries targeting foreigners where Thais would never dine because they can get the same or even better food a few blocks away for half the price.

Characters: A foreigner, tall and around 30 years of age, apparently fresh to Thailand judging by his behaviour. Speaks English with strong French accent.
Thai restaurant staff and a head waitress.

Foreigner enters the restaurant which has an open front to the street. He looks around and produces a wai. (A wai is the traditional form of greeting in Thailand where hands are folded together like in prayer and held in front of the chest.)

MISTAKE No. 1: Don’t wai when entering a restaurant. A wai is meant to greet and pay respect to elders and superiors, and monks. A wai also can mean “thank you” or signal an apology. A wai is NOT used to greet people younger than the greeter, nor is it used to greet persons that deliver a paid service, such as waiters and waitresses, hotel staff, maids, taxi drivers, shoe-shine boys or whoever gets money from you. Doing the wai for the latter is a cultural blunder and makes a foreigner just look stupid. It is as if a Thai tourist in Europe would enter a restaurant and seek a handshake with a waiter totally unknown to him.

Foreigner wants to see the menu and the wine card. (Of course, as he is apparently French)

MISTAKE No. 2: Don’t ever expect in a mid-range tourist restaurant in Thailand that there is much of a choice of wines. Drinking wine is an alien concept for average Thais. A tourist restaurant will thus not give you a choice between French or Italian or South African or whatever wine you might want, let alone let you choose from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot or Riesling etc. etc. They will simply ask you if you want red or white wine. (Ok, this happens in most American restaurants too.)

Foreigner orders red wine and says he does not want to eat spicy food.

MISTAKE No. 3: If you say you cannot eat or do not want spicy food (mai pet) you will get what you aim for, i.e. a boring sugary papaya salad or a green beef curry popped up with sweetened condensed milk, none of which actually tops the list of yummy Thai food.

The red wine arrives. As usual, it comes straight from the fridge.

MISTAKE No. 4: The foreigner is flabbergasted that they brought him a glass with ice-cold red wine and starts grumbling about it, leaving no doubt that he is indeed French. The usual reaction of restaurant staff is mai loo (I don’t know) [that red wine shouldn’t be served ice cold, not even in the tropics]. Foreigner sends the ice wine back because he wants it well-tempered. Back in the kitchen, the slightly distraught waitress quickly warms it up in the microwave.

Foreigner gets his red wine back at the right temperature without having noticed the microwave stunt. No food has arrived yet as restaurant orders in Thailand are rarely served simultaneously. He shouts a loud “Hello!” across the restaurant to attract attention of the waitress who has disappeared. Another, louder, “Hello!” follows.

MISTAKE No. 5: Don’t yell for attention in Thai restaurants. Don’t yell at all in Thailand. Thais are used to do things quietly. One who shouts to attract attention, particularly a foreigner, is perceived as being impolite and having lost control.

The main plate eventually arrives, but still no rice. Foreigner runs a bit out of patience.

MISTAKE No. 6: Don’t expect good service in most average Thai restaurants. Staff is underpaid and, in most cases, not trained for the job. Confusing dishes or forgetting them are common occurrences. Mai pen rai.

Eventually the rice arrives and the foreigner calms down. He even tries to start some small talk with the young waitress delivering his plate. She looks at him with wide open eyes, produces a helpless smile and walks off.

MISTAKE No. 7: Forget trying out small talk with average restaurant waiters or waitresses. Ninety-nine per cent speak close to zilch English. Many of them, in addition, are not even Thais, but from Myanmar or Cambodia.

Foreigner starts eating. A Bangladeshi seller of fake watches enters the restaurant without the restaurant owner bothering that this guy will approach and disturb every single (foreign) guest as he does every evening in order to sell his crap Chinese-made time pieces. The foreigner, unaware of the scam, tries to be polite and asks something about the watches.

MISTAKE No. 8: Never enter a conversation with a fake watch seller in Bangkok, especially when you are having dinner at the same time. They will not leave and open all their bags and spread out their full watch collection on your table regardless whether you are eating or are in company with friends.

The watch seller ultimately leaves. Foreigner finishes dinner, orders the bill, pays and gets a couple of 20-baht notes and some coins back. He drops the coins on the table as a tip as he would have done in a street café in Paris and walks away.

MISTAKE No. 9:  Don’t leave just a few coins as tip in Thailand if you ever want to return to a particular restaurant and be treated well. You would quickly be labeled “stingy” and nothing is worse a farang than a cheap farang. Next time you’d show up, they would just ignore you as long as possible. You are given plenty of 20-baht bills in change for a reason. Drop one bill or two when you go even when the service was substandard. In their view, it was the best they can provide.

Foreigner steps out of the restaurant. A taxi driver waiting in front of the premises asks him “Where you go my friend? Taxi?” Delighted to have found such a friendly driver he enters the vehicle and orders to be brought back to his hotel.

MISTAKE No. 10: Don’t react to seemingly friendly, seemingly English speaking taxi drivers with the slogan “Where you go my friend?” In almost all cases this is the only English phrase they know and in reality they are crooks that refuse to turn on the meter and might want to stopover at the odd jewelry shops or massage parlour where they get commission.

All this happened in around 40 minutes.

Do you like this post?
  • Fascinated
  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Bored
  • Afraid

This is an observation, not a rant. With this year's second high tourist season from now into December in Thailand starting, incidents of mild culture clashes between Thais and farang are on the rise. Here comes an example. Setting: Thai restaurant in Bangkok, Soi Prasanmit (Sukhumvit 23), one of those mid-range eateries targeting foreigners where Thais would never dine because they can get the same or even better food a few blocks away for half the price. Characters: A foreigner, tall and around 30 years of age, apparently fresh to Thailand judging by his behaviour. Speaks English with strong French...

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I love FarangThis is an observation, not a rant. With this year’s second high tourist season from now into December in Thailand starting, incidents of mild culture clashes between Thais and farang are on the rise. Here comes an example.

Setting: Thai restaurant in Bangkok, Soi Prasanmit (Sukhumvit 23), one of those mid-range eateries targeting foreigners where Thais would never dine because they can get the same or even better food a few blocks away for half the price.

Characters: A foreigner, tall and around 30 years of age, apparently fresh to Thailand judging by his behaviour. Speaks English with strong French accent.
Thai restaurant staff and a head waitress.

Foreigner enters the restaurant which has an open front to the street. He looks around and produces a wai. (A wai is the traditional form of greeting in Thailand where hands are folded together like in prayer and held in front of the chest.)

MISTAKE No. 1: Don’t wai when entering a restaurant. A wai is meant to greet and pay respect to elders and superiors, and monks. A wai also can mean “thank you” or signal an apology. A wai is NOT used to greet people younger than the greeter, nor is it used to greet persons that deliver a paid service, such as waiters and waitresses, hotel staff, maids, taxi drivers, shoe-shine boys or whoever gets money from you. Doing the wai for the latter is a cultural blunder and makes a foreigner just look stupid. It is as if a Thai tourist in Europe would enter a restaurant and seek a handshake with a waiter totally unknown to him.

Foreigner wants to see the menu and the wine card. (Of course, as he is apparently French)

MISTAKE No. 2: Don’t ever expect in a mid-range tourist restaurant in Thailand that there is much of a choice of wines. Drinking wine is an alien concept for average Thais. A tourist restaurant will thus not give you a choice between French or Italian or South African or whatever wine you might want, let alone let you choose from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot or Riesling etc. etc. They will simply ask you if you want red or white wine. (Ok, this happens in most American restaurants too.)

Foreigner orders red wine and says he does not want to eat spicy food.

MISTAKE No. 3: If you say you cannot eat or do not want spicy food (mai pet) you will get what you aim for, i.e. a boring sugary papaya salad or a green beef curry popped up with sweetened condensed milk, none of which actually tops the list of yummy Thai food.

The red wine arrives. As usual, it comes straight from the fridge.

MISTAKE No. 4: The foreigner is flabbergasted that they brought him a glass with ice-cold red wine and starts grumbling about it, leaving no doubt that he is indeed French. The usual reaction of restaurant staff is mai loo (I don’t know) [that red wine shouldn’t be served ice cold, not even in the tropics]. Foreigner sends the ice wine back because he wants it well-tempered. Back in the kitchen, the slightly distraught waitress quickly warms it up in the microwave.

Foreigner gets his red wine back at the right temperature without having noticed the microwave stunt. No food has arrived yet as restaurant orders in Thailand are rarely served simultaneously. He shouts a loud “Hello!” across the restaurant to attract attention of the waitress who has disappeared. Another, louder, “Hello!” follows.

MISTAKE No. 5: Don’t yell for attention in Thai restaurants. Don’t yell at all in Thailand. Thais are used to do things quietly. One who shouts to attract attention, particularly a foreigner, is perceived as being impolite and having lost control.

The main plate eventually arrives, but still no rice. Foreigner runs a bit out of patience.

MISTAKE No. 6: Don’t expect good service in most average Thai restaurants. Staff is underpaid and, in most cases, not trained for the job. Confusing dishes or forgetting them are common occurrences. Mai pen rai.

Eventually the rice arrives and the foreigner calms down. He even tries to start some small talk with the young waitress delivering his plate. She looks at him with wide open eyes, produces a helpless smile and walks off.

MISTAKE No. 7: Forget trying out small talk with average restaurant waiters or waitresses. Ninety-nine per cent speak close to zilch English. Many of them, in addition, are not even Thais, but from Myanmar or Cambodia.

Foreigner starts eating. A Bangladeshi seller of fake watches enters the restaurant without the restaurant owner bothering that this guy will approach and disturb every single (foreign) guest as he does every evening in order to sell his crap Chinese-made time pieces. The foreigner, unaware of the scam, tries to be polite and asks something about the watches.

MISTAKE No. 8: Never enter a conversation with a fake watch seller in Bangkok, especially when you are having dinner at the same time. They will not leave and open all their bags and spread out their full watch collection on your table regardless whether you are eating or are in company with friends.

The watch seller ultimately leaves. Foreigner finishes dinner, orders the bill, pays and gets a couple of 20-baht notes and some coins back. He drops the coins on the table as a tip as he would have done in a street café in Paris and walks away.

MISTAKE No. 9:  Don’t leave just a few coins as tip in Thailand if you ever want to return to a particular restaurant and be treated well. You would quickly be labeled “stingy” and nothing is worse a farang than a cheap farang. Next time you’d show up, they would just ignore you as long as possible. You are given plenty of 20-baht bills in change for a reason. Drop one bill or two when you go even when the service was substandard. In their view, it was the best they can provide.

Foreigner steps out of the restaurant. A taxi driver waiting in front of the premises asks him “Where you go my friend? Taxi?” Delighted to have found such a friendly driver he enters the vehicle and orders to be brought back to his hotel.

MISTAKE No. 10: Don’t react to seemingly friendly, seemingly English speaking taxi drivers with the slogan “Where you go my friend?” In almost all cases this is the only English phrase they know and in reality they are crooks that refuse to turn on the meter and might want to stopover at the odd jewelry shops or massage parlour where they get commission.

All this happened in around 40 minutes.

Do you like this post?
  • Fascinated
  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Bored
  • Afraid