Written by @Lan (Credit: Narong Thaopanya)
Thought of the day-“If they do it often, it isn’t a mistake; it’s just their behavior.”-Dr.Steve Maraboli
A backpacker is a backpacker. Backpackers travel in super cheap ways and that is not wrong. Entirely not a sin. Everyone does. Except for the super rich. But for this young tourist (as shown in the pic), is it all right to make your feet in super comfy position by putting it on a seat’s head rest, in a bus? To make things worst, a fellow passenger, Narong Thaophanya had to endure that rancid smelly feet of yours. You might be a farang but that does not mean your feet are some fragrant herbs. This incident occurred about 2 weeks ago. That’s history but there is always something that we can learn from it.
There’s plenty of coverage and reporting about this particular incident that happened to Narong Thaopanya and to read some of that, click any of the links given below;
The feet and the head (Thai etiquette)
There’s a rule or etiquette when it comes to the feet and head. Let’s read some of the notes prepared by those studying Thai Culture..
Rappa AL (2016) Custom, Kinship and the Law: An Analysis of Thailand’s Rural Northeastern Provinces (1946-1976). J Civil Legal Sci 5: 194.
“It is considered a grave insult to use one’s feet to point someone towards a certain direction as many Westerners do as well as for anyone to touch the head of a Siamese person.”
“The head is considered sacred, since it is the source of intelligence and spiritual substance. Do not touch another person’s head. Because the feet come in contact with the ground, they are considered to be profane, dirty – especially the soles of the feet. They should not be pointed at another person. Pointing the bottom of your feet at someone can be interpreted as an insult – the equivalent of giving someone (in North American culture) the finger.”
Shannon Barnson (October 9, 2008). Thailand Culture Research Paper. Westminster College.
“People who were raised in a Thai culture consider certain body parts sacred or taboo in nature, and will find it very rude if they are touched on or with these body parts. In American culture, these types of touching limitations are usually based on sexual taboo.”
“This is not the case in Thai culture. For example it is considered taboo touch anyone’s head as it is considered one most sacred body part. This is an issue that could arise in a classroom for teachers with a western cultural background because it is quite common for adults to casually tussle a child’s hair while expressing affection of encouragement.”
“People with a Thai background consider the foot to as the lowliest body part. Because of this, the people of Thailand are expected to never point toes, heels or any part of foot at any person. It is also considered very rude to show the sole of your foot, use the foot to move anything, and especially put your feet up on a table or any furniture.”
“The head of a person or statue in Thailand are regarded as the most important part of the body. It is considered rude to touch a stranger’s head, as it would be in most countries around the world. It is also disrespectful to touch the head of a statue, especially a statue of the Buddha. Visitors should try to avoid pointing their feet directly at another person or Buddha statue. It is also inappropriate to step over a person or a Buddha statue. In general, your feet should always be lower than another person’s head to avoid offending someone.”
My 2 cents
I am not saying that the arrogant tourist’s feet really touched Narong Thaopanya’s head but as you can see in the pic, it’s almost there. Not only that Narong had to endure that smell for the entire duration of the journey in a bus, it’s an extremely rude to put feet next to somebody head and nose!
What if along the way there were plenty of Buddha Statues or Temples and if that particular feet point directly at those sacred sites, it’s an insult already. An insult towards the local’s belief.
I am not saying that all backpackers are rude. Some of the backpackers I have met are friendly, nice and respect the local culture. That being said, a small percentage of travelers do think that the world belongs to them and that they can do anything they like.
Narong Thaophanya said;
“This woman’s face was beautiful but she had no manners. The smell from her feet was filling the whole bus – it was hot and made me feel sick, because her feet were next to my head.”
Carl Justav Jung once said, “You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do”. I guess the woman that gave Narong the most rancid smell is a person that has no compassion and manners at all. Not only she failed to digest the Thai Culture into her ‘brain’, she generally insulted her own ‘personality’. I don’t dare to know her lifestyle at her own home.
Luckily Narong is one liberal Thai who can accept and tolerate with such behavior. Had he been a conservative Thai with the traditional doctrine stick to his mind, this woman will get some lesson that she will never ever forget. I pity that person who will sit on that already ‘contaminated’ seat for the next journey.
Positioning the feet high up will surely expose another ‘aroma’ that comes from the most precious and valuable ‘property’ of her. To that woman, you are not directly insulting your fellow passengers, you insulted yourself, humiliating your own country and may I ask one simple question… is this how you sit in front of your parents? God knows.
Being travelers does not automatically grant an ‘access’ to do as we please, like doing things that we normally do at home. There are times when we all need to be super sensitive towards others culture and belief. Even if a person do not belong to any religion or belief, he or she still have ‘dignity’. Respect and you will be respected. Period.