Cultural Profile
Thai versus American Culture
Case Study










Low-Context versus High-Context:
Since American culture is low-context and Thai culture is high-context, there is a difference in how the code and message are received. In particular, in the Thai culture, since similar words mean different things and saying “I” or “You” depends on your status, and on the status of the person in front of you, what is said depends on the context rather than the message. Therefore, it is not enough to hear what is being said without seeing the scene or situation. In terms of public relations, this implies that if one is using a commercial where voices are heard, but not seen, it will not be effective because the viewer must be able to see the context in which the message appears. On the other hand, since American culture is low-context, having a commercial where voices are heard, but not seen can be effective since Americans understand the meaning in the message without seeing the situation. In all, this has very high implications on the effectiveness of a public relations campaign in Thailand. Moreover, it demonstrates the difference between a commercial that is successful or not, between the two cultures.





Monochronic versus Polychronic:
Time is an element in American culture that is crucial. On the other hand, in Thai culture, time is not that important. Thai culture is based in the present, the current time. According to the “Buddhist point of view, time is not so important because before reaching enlightenment, many lives are needed” (Thai World View). Between the two cultures, it is easy to see how Americans could become frustrated with this. For example, “when a Thai person says four o’clock, it is better to check if it is four o’clock in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, or the night” (Thai World View). Thus, time in Thai culture is not of vital importance, like in American culture, where it is seen as a commodity. In terms of public relations, this could be irritating if an American has an appointment with a Thai public relations practitioner and they show up late. Further, if scheduling is not vital to the Thai culture, having a media list and dateline of how a campaign is supposed to be launched will not matter to the Thai PR person.




Direct versus Indirect:
Language plays a key role in the effectiveness of a public relations campaign. The Thai culture relies on indirect language, while the American culture is based on direct verbal communication. Therefore, in the Thai culture, non-verbal cues, such as smiling at someone, which can have several meanings, instead of speaking to someone, can have more power in the situation. In addition, the concept of saving face in Thai culture is extremely important. Thus, open and direct criticism is looked down upon. Moreover, the Thai people tend to be non-confrontational and keep anger in. On the other hand, American culture is the opposite. Open and direct criticism is seen as helpful and often used in business. Also, the concept of saving face is not considered important. Thus, if a Thai and American were working on a public relations campaign, there could be much trouble if they did not know about the other’s culture. Specifically, in a campaign, if someone in a commercial, for instance, was seen as losing face, it would not appeal to Thai people, it may be seen as ignorant.
A smile can have several meanings in Thailand







Linear versus Nonlinear:
The difference between American and Thai culture, as seen through a linear and nonlinear lens, is do to the Thai Buddhist philosophy. Since Thai culture is based on this philosophy, “time orientation is less important than people and events, and time is not segmented” (Zaharna 3). Therefore, the Thai culture is characterized by thinking in images, not just words. Since nonverbal communication is very important in Thai culture, the thought processes are based on multiple themes and expressed in both verbal and non-verbal communication. In contrast, American culture is representative of a linear thought framework where the beginnings and ends of events, unitary themes, and object oriented concepts are important (Zaharna 3). From a public relations standpoint, these two differingframeworks can have serious implications when making a commercial, for example. If an American commercial storyboard was introduced to a Thai public relations firm, it would not be successful because it would not be understood. Therefore, in order to have a successful public relations campaign, it is important to know how the other culture processes their thought framework.




Detail from a stone carving showing a religious scene








Family life in Thailand


Individualism versus Collectivism:
Comparing Thai versus American culture illustrates the differences between individualist versus collectivist cultures. Analyzing Thai culture, which is based on Buddhist philosophy, emphasizes the importance of bringing merit to the family, supporting the poor, and doing good deeds. Moreover, their sense of sacrifice being tied to their sense of self as a member of the larger collective has to do with the concept of saving face. In particular, if a family suddenly does not have enough money to buy uniforms for their children, they will take them out of school rather than send them to school without uniforms. In addition, it is important to take care of every member of the family and give thanks to the elders for taking care of the younger members. They do not believe in nursing homes. On the other hand, American culture is based on an individualist culture where “the goals of the individual are valued over any particular group or collective” (Zaharna 2). Further, “personal accomplishments are important and individuals will take advantage of opportunities for advancement even if it means sacrificing personal relations” (Zaharna 3). Therefore, the two cultures have a very different sense of family and its relationship to self. From a public relations standpoint, this implies that the goals of any campaign must relate to the culture (personal goals, family goals, etc.). Otherwise, the campaign may not be successful. In addition, commercials for nursing homes would not work in Thailand.



Literate versus Oral:
How a society receives the message depends on if it is dominated by an oral versus literate culture. Since the Thai culture is based on Buddhist philosophy, much of the stories that are passed down through generations of Thais are based on oral communication. As a result, the aural experience is valued and the speaker and audience relationship is important. In contrast, the American culture is dominated by a literate culture where the printed and written word is valued and the speaker may be detached from the audience. Further, the factual accuracy is emphasized. In the American culture, because of the family structure and importance of family is different than the Thai culture, more is written down than repeated orally from generation to generation. Due to these differences, how a public relations campaign is delivered depends on this concept. Namely, in an oral society, the message design will depend on repetition, vivid imagery, exaggeration, and symbolic language. On the other hand, in a literate society, the message design will depend on simplicity, accuracy, understatement, and action-oriented language. Thus, American commercials, for instance, will seem unappealing to the Thai viewers because of their lack of all of the elements mentioned above and vice versa. Therefore, it is important to know who your target audience is and how to reach them through an effective means if their society is dominated by oral versus literate culture.
In all, through this comparison between Thai and American culture, it is easy to see how different the two cultures actually are. As a result, this comparison illustrates the problems public relations practitioners may have when launching a public relations campaign. Also, it depicts what problems the two cultures may have when working with one another. This comparison can be used as a tool for what to do and what not to do in future engagements between public communication practitioners in the two countries.


Valerie Kremer

Year of Graduation 2004

Prof. Zaharna International Public Relations

American University


Thai ad in English cars with "joyful cassettes"