The wai is the Thai greeting and show of respect. It is a unique, graceful action practised throughout Thailand.
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!
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.
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. Alternatively, when leaving a party or other such gathering, you should wai everyone, 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!
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.
It might take you some time to perfect your technique, but this charming greeting will become second-nature in no time at all!
Vocabulary (kam sàp)
การทักทาย ̸ ̸̸ gaantáktaai ̸̸ = greeting
มือ /muu ̸ = hands
จูบ ̸jùub̸ = kiss
แก้ม /gɛ̂ɛm̸ = cheek
แฟน / fɛɛn̸ = girlfriend
ภรรยา ̸ panraya/ = wife
สำคัญ ̸samkan ̸ = important
ความขอบคุณ ̸ kwamkͻ́ɔbkun ̸ ̸ = thanks
ความกตัญญู ̸ kwam-kàdtanyuu̸ = gratitude
มีเสน่ห์ ̸m¡¡sànèe̸ = charming
Thai Language Teacher