Welcome to whywai.com
What is a wai? Why wai?
usually don't shake hands but instead ‘wai’ which is raising both hands
gracefully and unhurriedly, palm to palm, fingers together and close to
the body, bringing them in a prayer- like gesture to the head while
bowing slightly. The ‘wai’ is the traditional Thai greeting. Why wai? To
Thai people, it’s second nature. If you are a foreigner in Thailand, you
will show and receive respect by following this customary greeting,
although many Thais will also (somewhat reluctantly) accept a handshake
The wai is a graceful, totally unique
action practiced throughout Thailand. It plays a very important part in
showing respect, and is central to Thai etiquette. For the most part
Thais do not want to touch your sweaty, grubby little hands, so it's a
good idea to learn how to wai. The European kiss-on-each-cheek-greeting
will certainly alarm a Thai, especially if you are a man doing this to a
woman who isn't your wife or girlfriend!
The wai can be very confusing for anyone
not brought up with it. This is especially at large gatherings when, if
not familiar with this kind of situation, you may feel like you have
been waiing, bowing and smiling a hundred times. However, the plus side
is that being spontaneously wai-ed to by others is a pleasant feeling!
When being wai-ed to (by an adult, that
is), you would be considered impolite if you didn't return or at least
acknowledge the wai. This is something especially difficult to do when
you are carrying a lot of bags or in the middle of eating dinner with
your hands full, and someone offers an unexoected wai. At the very
least, you can grunt and nod! It doesn’t really matter if you have
something in your hands at the time – the mobile phone-between-palms wai
is a familiar sight in Thailand! Only monks and royalty do not need to
return a wai. More details on how to why in an article by 'Wit'
As well as being a greeting, a wai is a
show of respect. It can be difficult to determine when you should wai or
when someone should wai you. As a foreigner, it's just easiest to wai
important people as soon as possible. If someone is going to wai you
first, they probably already beat you to it.
However, if you really want to know when
to wai, this depends on your relationship to the other person. The
person of higher social status will always be wai-ed to. Your bank
manager, company owner, school headmaster and local mayor would all
expect an unprompted wai, for example. You inevitably have only a few
seconds to decide this when you meet, but it's best to err on the side
of waiing first if you are unsure.
One easy determination is age. If someone
is older than you, then you should wai them unless they are someone whom
you employ, such as a housekeeper. Additionally, you probably wouldn’t
wai anyone who you are paying for service, such as waiters, tailors,
vendors, shopkeepers or taxi drivers. You also wouldn't wai your peers
and friends, though Thai people that haven’t seen each other for a while
often do. When leaving a party or other social gathering, you should
probably wai everyone (though not necessarily individually!), as this is
the polite way to excuse yourself from the festivities.
You will also wai when receiving a gift
from a superior, as a sign of thanks. Make your wai before you reach to
take the object. While listening to a Buddhist sermon, it is also
customary to hold a wai during the entire programme. You may even notice
that as drivers of vehicles pass a sacred monument, they will wai - even
taking their hands off the wheel!
If all that wasn't confusing enough,
there are different kinds of wais. The normal wai is with your hands
pressed together at about chest level, presenting a slight bow with your
body. The wai to a superior is with the tips of your fingers at nose
level, still bowing your body. To convey the most respect and gratitude,
you will wai with your fingertips at mouth level and present a deeper
and longer bow.
The wai is a delicate, graceful gesture
when performed by Thais. It may look somewhat more awkward and sometimes
even comical when foreigners try it initially, but the attempt will
still be most appreciated, as Thai people are very accepting in this
regard. It might take you some time to perfect your technique, but this
charming greeting will become second-nature in no time at all. Getting
right is another thing – good luck!
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