The wai, the polite gesture Thais use for greetings, farewells, prayers and even apologies, dates back to the 12th century, where both hands clasped together in front proved that you weren’t holding a weapon. That’s the folklore anyway.
Recently, the greeting has increased in general popularity around the world as a anti-Covid ‘safe’ replacement for the western handshake. So, how, when and with whom should you wai? Here’s a few easy tips to learn how to wai. Today Som teaches us some of the basics of the lovely Thai ‘wai’ (pronounced ‘why’).
As a foreigner you don’t look Thai, dress Thai and you probably can’t eat full-strength Thai curry either. So this means you’re exempt from Thailand’s most nuanced courtesies. There’s a lot of subtlety in the Thai wai so, chances are, you’re not going to get it right. But your best efforts will be appreciated.
How to wai when you’re uncertain? At a minimum, when someone wais to you, return the gesture with a kind smile and an acknowledging nod. In restaurants and shops: You’ll often receive a wai from shop and restaurant staff. It’s not necessary to wai in return to anyone providing you with a service of this nature. Instead, a nice (grateful) smile is plenty. To children / those younger than you:
Also, there’s no need to wai to a child or anyone who’s clearly younger than you – so, baby boomers, you’re increasingly in the clear! The wai is a mark of respect to elders.
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