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How to Wai like a Thai, with Som | VIDEO

Tanutam Thawan

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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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16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Avatar

    dee lee

    Monday, March 1, 2021 at 6:21 pm

    Probably the most informative and useful video posted here . Thank you young lady

  2. Avatar

    Toby Andrews

    Monday, March 1, 2021 at 6:30 pm

    Thais tried the western handshake but abandoned it.
    Too many Thais had their watches and rings stolen.

  3. Avatar

    Sandy Porter

    Monday, March 1, 2021 at 7:43 pm

    I love it! Great video. I need to know this! Khob khun mak krub khun Som!??

  4. Avatar

    Mister Stretch

    Monday, March 1, 2021 at 9:20 pm

    Now, why didn’t my wife teach me that?

    Simple…but very important, IMO.

    Thanks for a good video.

  5. Avatar

    Anna

    Monday, March 1, 2021 at 10:48 pm

    Good info

  6. Avatar

    Buster Hymen

    Tuesday, March 2, 2021 at 5:17 am

    Don’t you just love it when you see a fat ugly Faland Wai a Thai hooker?? Even Thai people can’t stop laughing when they see that. You NEVER Wai a person whose station in life is below your own. Useless video.

  7. Avatar

    James Pate

    Tuesday, March 2, 2021 at 5:42 am

    Very nice video! Clear and simple. One thing I would like to add: Mind your elbows. Your elbows should be close to your sides; not with your forearms parallel to the ground like the Indian “namaste”. Because the presenter has been doing this all her life, she may have never even thought about this. As my buddy taught me years ago “Tuck in your elbows, man! This ain’t India.”

  8. Avatar

    jackem

    Tuesday, March 2, 2021 at 9:37 am

    Very useful, BUT you forgot to explain who initiates the wai. Tourists always get this wrong, and wai first to waiters, shop clerks etc.

  9. Avatar

    Maestro

    Tuesday, March 2, 2021 at 9:37 am

    Important for foreigners to do the Wai properly (and many other things here in Thailand) as Thais appreciate it and like that we make the effort.

    Thanks for a nice and informative video. Not to mention how easy to the eye she is.

  10. Avatar

    Billy

    Wednesday, March 3, 2021 at 9:59 am

    Busterrrrrrr!!
    Sorry,but you are not superior to Som in teaching Thai customs, so just shut it. Gees! the arrogance of many farang know-it-alls

  11. Avatar

    Comicus

    Thursday, March 4, 2021 at 12:34 am

    @Buster Hymen
    Despite the facthat Som did not get her fact 100% correct e.g.there are five levels, not just three or the level for monks is higher than Kings etc; you definitely are not in the right by any chances.

    Ones’ occupation cannot be the main factor to judge whether a person is good or bad. For example, a good person may not be a good leader. Of course, no one would not hate POTUS even it is Trump!

  12. Avatar

    Issan John

    Thursday, March 4, 2021 at 1:46 pm

    Buster and jackem are spot on, although the video’s far from “useless”.

    It’s an excellent video on the “how” and “who”, but completely overlooks the all-important “when” – probably because relative status is so ingrained into Thai culture that she didn’t think she needed to.

    That’s not a criticism in any way – it’s just something Thais take for-granted, like having “elder and younger” siblings rather than “brothers and sisters”, which Thais don’t even have words for.

    Whereas in the West anyone can initiate a handshake (apart from with senior royalty), the Thai wai is all about relative status which is why contrary to the article the wai hasn’t “increased in general popularity worldwide” but the similar but far more egalitarian “namaste”, which has no status significance, has.

  13. Avatar

    Issan John

    Thursday, March 4, 2021 at 2:21 pm

    … and while I’m knocking the article but not the video, the idea that “the Wai … dates back to the 12th century, where both hands clasped together in front proved that you weren’t holding a weapon” is just farang nonsense.

    How is it possible to “prove that you weren’t holding a weapon” when “both hands” are “clasped together” so it’s impossible to see what’s in your hands???

    You could be holding a chain or a knife and it would be impossible to see it!

    You can not only Wai perfectly acceptably holding something in your hands, but it’s often a requirement – for example when holding a candle, flowers, garlands, or incense at a temple.

    You can even Wai with a sword in your hands, as in Wai Kru Krabi Krabong.

    You can Wai with one hand if your arm’s in a sling (or you only have one hand), or if you’re carrying something in your other hand that you can’t put down, from a baby to a knife, even the shopping!

  14. Avatar

    Issan John

    Thursday, March 4, 2021 at 3:04 pm

    … and Comicus, FWIW Buster H is a lot more “correct” than you are ?

    Som is 100% correct, unsurprisingly- there are three levels of Wai, although there are variations and nuances such as bowing and head height within each level.

    THREE levels. Not, under any circumstances or according to any authorities, “five levels”.

    … and “the level for monks is higher than Kings etc” is plain wrong, end of story. It varies depending on the monk’s position and status – obviously a five year old nen doesn’t merit a high Wai, but neither does an adult automatically even when they’ve been ordained as a bhikkhu. It’s far from that simple, and that’s where the nuances of bowing and head height come in.

    “Occupation” and “whether a person is good or bad” ?

    Completely irrelevant – it’s not about occupation, necessarily, and certainly not about “good or bad”, but about status and hierarchy.

  15. Avatar

    Pete Miller

    Friday, March 5, 2021 at 4:42 am

    Shaking is done. The Wai is taking over https://youtu.be/Dtk9hWU6JBQ

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