Asian cultures have a lot of unique customs which you need to be aware of. Following these customs will earn you points, and help you to avoid making mistakes that will embarrass you—and your Asian girlfriend or your soon-to-be-Asian bride.
• Before entering her home, or her family’s home, find out whether you should remove your shoes. If there are a bunch of shoes lined up by the front door, then you’ll know that you are expected to remove yours. So make sure you’re wearing a clean pair of socks!
• Don’t hug or kiss the cheeks of her family members when you first meet them. Shake their hands and give a slight bow of your head.
• With Japanese and Korean people, use both hands when handing an object or receiving it.
• In the Philippines, the word “kuya” is a respectful term to use with men. Basically, it means “brother.” You can call any Filipino male “kuya” and it will be treated as a sign of respect. (If a Filipina girl refers to a guy she knows as her “kuya,” then you know she’s not sexually interested in him. It means she regards him only as a friend.) Meanwhile, older women are respectfully referred to as “ate” (pronounced a-tay). This is the term you would use when talking to your girl’s mother or other older relatives.
• With Vietnamese people, when you are greeting individuals in a group, always greet older people or those in authority first.
• When sitting down to eat, it’s disrespectful to pick up your chopsticks before the older people have done so.
• When having Miso soup (a staple of meals in Japan and China), don’t use a spoon to drink it. Drink it straight from the bowl like everyone else—and don’t worry about making slurping noises, because this means you are enjoying it.
• In Thailand, the head is considered to be the most sacred part of the body. It is very rude to touch a person on the top of their head (never pat any Thai person on top of their head—even a child). And they consider the feet to be the least sacred part of the body, which means you should never point your foot at a Thai person. Thais usually sit on the floor with their feet tucked under their bodies behind them.
In general, you should avoid touching Thai people who you aren’t familiar with, since it’s considered an invasion of their personal space. They don’t shake hands; they greet each other with a quick “wai.” This gesture means placing your hands together, as if praying, with your head lowered towards them in a slight bow.
Social status among Thais is indicated by the height of your wai and depth of your bow. Inferiors initiate the wai, while superiors return the wai with a smile. As a rule of thumb, you should refrain from giving wais unless it’s someone that obviously deserves it (such as a person much older than you). Don’t be a stereotypical “dumb foreigner” and go around giving wais to waitresses and women you just met. The Thais will smile at you, but behind that smile they’re thinking that you’re a jackass.