Wai - Traditional Thai Greeting, Bangkok
A common Thai greeting is to place your hands together in a prayer like position. All the greetings I've experienced were held close to the mouth. I am told the the height of the hands shows respect. The higher the hands the more respect. This gesture is accompanied by a slight bow and the greeting "Sawasdee" pronounce "sawatdee"
This is done quite often by all Thai people. As you can see in the photo, the younger gentleman initiates the greeting with respect and the older gentleman will respond.
Thais greet each other with the ‘wai’ (pronounced like the word ‘why’), placing the palms of their hands together as in prayer and raising them to the level of their face whilst bowing slightly. Cambodians and Lao people also do this but they don't bow their heads down. In addition to greeting and saying goodbye, the wai is also always used when either presenting or receiving a gift. The wai is, amongst other things, a mark of respect for position and age. For Thais, different levels of the closed hands can show different degrees of respect.
As a rule, if someone wais you, you should always wai back. However, it is not considered correct to wai children or to wai someone who is thanking you for your patronage. Thais are aware that foreigners don’t use the wai and in situations where you are unsure, a nod and a smile will always pass as an acceptably polite response.
Many people in the capital speak some English, sometimes too enthusiastically as they speak so fast. However you should try to learn the basic words, but no-one expects you to learn much more than Kap-kun-kap (for men) or kap-kun-ka (for women) -Thank you, and also Sa-wa-di-kap / sa-we-di-ka Hello. Also it is very polite to put your hands together in the form of a prayer and bow slightly when greeting someone.
I love the traditional "wai" Thai greeting, accompanied by a very pleasant "sawadee ka" or "sawadee krap". It is the most comforting greeting of any culture I've ever visited. It is warm, friendly and welcoming -- so much so that it is very easy to drop into it yourself. Compare it to the traditional western greeting -- the handshake. The handshake can be brutish and coarse, often a gesture of manly intimidation rather than a true greeting. That's just as you would expect, given that it originated as a way to show that you had no weapon in your right hand. In contrast, the "wai' is almost heavenly, and even feminine, no matter whether it comes from a man or a woman (or someone who might be a little both as happens every so often in Bangkok). I lovethe "wai"
Lately while out and about I have noticed farangs wai-ing left, right and centre, and usually it's painfully misplaced.
In *general* as a tourist it isn't necessary to wai anyone and it's especially not appropriate to wai the waiter at the hotel restaurant who is just greeting you politely as a service industry thing or the cashier at Gourmet Market Place. They will wai you, but they just are greeting you as a respected customer.
I think unless you know exactly how to do it - as in how high to wai the recipient and if you do it first or last, based on their 'status' compared to yours - you should just smile sincerely and nod/quick head duck, which is impossible to get wrong. If someone is a friend or colleague or has helped you out and it feels right, then that is when to do it. When in doubt, smile and head duck - this can be applied to lots of different social situations and is good to get in the habit of doing.
I am assuming "other geographic region" to mean in Thailand.
In Thailand it is the same all over. It is a respectful greeting, or a way of saying sorry, or goodbye. Normally hands, together as in prayer, chest level just under the chin. The higher one goes the more respect you show for that person that is being greeted, such as elders or a high ranking monk or priest.
Hope that helped!
Everytime you see a local pass by a temple or shrine, they will put their hands together (similar to the way when they say Sawasdeekap/ka) and bow their heads. This shows that the locals really shows respects their belief. Something to note when you see a local passing through a temple or shrine...
Every single Thai you meet will do the WAI to say thank you, in restaurants, hotels, shops... They really like it when you do it too, so it's a good thing to learn how to say "thank you" in Thai and do as the romans...
For men: Kop Kun Krap
For women: Kop Kun Kaa
As you know we do 'Wai' by put both of your hands on your chest and bend your head a little bit to hands.
'Wai' is for
3) Good Bye
5) Praying to the Buddha
But!!! Do you know ? We don't 'Wai' to everyone. Thai people pay respect to someone who is older as senior and we respect them as boss in a service business. So, please don't 'Wai' to anyone who is younger than you. Younger people won't feel comfortable to get your 'Wai' first. But if they do to you, you'll have to accept them back by do it the same after that.
Don't have to 'Wai' everyone who you don't know. For example; if you buy something in the shop, you don't have to 'Wai' the owner because you're the customer unless they invite you to stay over or join food with them. 'Wai' must be feeling or meaning to that person.
But whether you do right or wrong, Thai people are still happy to see you do that because we like what you try to do as our custom.
How to greet your local friends
Do it the way you wanna do. Depends how close you guys are. And depends how 'conservative' your friend is. To me (personally) I'm used to western style of greetings. Kissing on the cheeks is acceptable if you know each other well enough AND if you know that your friend is open-minded and quite a 'modern' Thai. Otherwise just shaking hands.
Even cheek-kissing. Do it just to greet your friends is OK. But romantic kiss between couples (yes, even only on the cheeks) is a NO.
What about greeting non-friends?
Don't "Wai" everyone. (See what is "Wai" here) Do that to the people they're older than you only AND they must be someone you're supposed to show respect (for example, visiting your friends' parents) But to the monks it doesn't matter how old they are. You can always "Wai" them (we do) before and after a chat (if you visit temple and have chance to talk to the monks)
To people in general (one those you're not familiar with, just a nodding or slightly bow your head is enough.
Showing affection in public
Hugging is always OK here (at least, in Bangkok) I mean a 'friendly' hug though not to romantic couples hug which you know that is not appropriate to do that in public. (behind the scene, everything goes, but keep that for your private)
Too smoochy couples are always annoying for us (yeah..fussy country) We understand that some are here for their honeymoon. But it doesn't mean we like to see people showing their affection in public especially kissing (mouth-to-mouth) is a big NO..don't do that. Please.
Holding hands? -- that's OK
Sometimes I wonder why we're so serious about this stuff. While a few blocks away there're many sexy shows out there but on the free TV even 'drinking and smoking' scenes are censored. Don't ask me why. I don't really understand that myself.
The "Wai" is when you grasp two hands together and bring them towards your chin with your head bent slightly forward. This action is used in greetings and farewells, very graceful to see and used as often as a show of respect and acknowledgement rather than as a handshake in the west.
There are quite a number of hidden “codes” involved with the wai, and it can all seem rather complicated when a local gives you the full ins and outs.
So look; DO NOT PANIC !!! As a visitor, Thai’s won’t be expecting you to get it all A1 and correct first time out. As with nearly all cultures, the fact that you are showing consideration, respect and enjoying yourself is more than enough. Getting a wai right is icing on the cake.
The person who usually gives the first wai is the one showing the respect to the other person. And the person giving the first wai will have their hands closer to their temples / nose than the person responding with their wai. (Watch out for Thais greeting each other in hotel lobbies and at airports and you'll see how it's done, and how graceful it can be. Particular cute when young kids greet their grandma.)
As a guest you will tend to get the respect shown to you. So, it is best to wait for someone else to wai you first (unless you’re meeting the Prime Minister for a few quiet beers…).
When the restaurant / hotel / shop / tailor staff do wai you, the easiest and most polite thing to do is to lob back a smile, and give a wai at the level shown by Ronald in the picture.
You’ve seen Paradorn "wai" at Wimbledon (to all four sides to show his respect). We’ve seen David Beckham "wai" at the National Stadium. There are now posters of Mr B doing his in the hut used but the security guards at our office. If you get it full on you never know, your "wai pic" might end up in the tailors... next to Kenny Rogers. Michelin Man does a good "wai" too.
Oooops, only one point, best NOT to return a Wai to a young child. Drop them a big smile instead
Crumbs, there I was yesterday writing up about "Wai's" and how showing some consideration gets you a long way in good old Bangkok and what happens?
...I'll tell you what happens. The very same evening down at the Miss Universe Finals in Bangkok's Impact Arena, Miss Canada drops a kindly,"kop khun kha" on the end of one of her answers ...and then, cherry on the top.... gives a full-marks ten-out-of-ten and appropriate "wai" to the bloke in charge. Just like the one Ronald McDonald is doing outside the hamburger joint. Just like the one David Beckham made at the National Stadium in 1999. Crowd errupts.
(Her answer was a tad cheesey but there you go... "The biggest challenge in my life is always to think positive. I consider myself the kind of person who sees the world as a glass half-full, instead of half-empty. Oh well, a good thank you, a top wai and a crumbly answer. C'est la vie. Crowned for the year.
On your left, the perfect wai. Nice one Khun Nat. Picture lifted straight off the front page of today's society magazine with my digital camera
Fancy another bit of info on Thai customs? There are over There 450 Beauty Contests in Thailand EVERY YEAR. And so you know how important these are, yesterday's government cabinet meeting was postponed from 8.30am to 10.00am as a few of the members were at the show. The majority of the others wanted to watch it live on satellite (The Bangkok Post reports).
Stop Press: Well, we are now in November 2005, six months on from the forementioned contest, and the "get your wai right" has delivered the ultimate reward. Our Miss Canada / Universe now appears on the back of Mama Noodle Pots (second pic). This is major news. For those with a British pysche, this is rather like Robert de Niro making it onto a can of Heinz Baked Beans.
Stop Press: If you think this looks like VT Member "Tina-Perth" you'd be right. We only mix with royalty here you know!
This is a real minefield!
The "Wai" is the Thai greeting where the hands are pressed together prayer-like and raised to chest/nose/forehead level. You will almost certainly be "wai'd" at one time or another, for example in hotels (well, the better ones!) and restaurants.
I have found from experience, advice from Thai friends etc, that a non-Thai is probably best advised generally NOT to attempt to return a "wai", but to smile and nod respectfully in return.
The "wai" is really a fiendishly complex thing, invested with fine cultural nuiances. Who wais first, if the wai is returned, the way the hands are moved together, the point the hands are brought up to (chest, face etc.) are all important.
Generally, Thai people will understand a foreigner not wai-ing. Probably better to opt out rather than risk the inevitable inappropriate or clusy wai!
The Bhuddist greeting, put your hands together as if in prayer, raise to face and bow head. It becomes automatic after a day.
It is disrespectful to pray to Bhudda with your feet pointing to wards him.
Do not expect to buy statues of Bhudda as a tourist item. They are highly respected and revered, not as a souvenir.
How to Wai: The Thai greeting is known as Wai. It involves pressing one's palms together & lifted towards the chin. Generally, the inferior party initiates the wai & holds the greeting higher & longer. The superior will then return it accordingly. The general concensus is one should not wai waiters, waitresses, street vendors & children.