To Wai or not to Wai


Okay, so what's the deal with the Wai:

"The Wai

Unless you know exactly the right way to 'wai' (sounds like "why"), the appropriate hand position and to whom, it is usually just best just to avoid wai-ing when in Thailand, if someone does Wai you just acknowledge a wai with a smile and a nod, in other words, the general rule is to refrain from wai-ing anyone"


"The Wai

Not returning someone's Wai is rude; only the King of Thailand and monks are not expected to return someone's wai. Unless you're in one of those two categories, giving a wai incorrectly is still better than not making any effort at all.

After learning how to say hello in Thai, you should know how to offer and return a wai — it's an essential part of Thai etiquette. Thai people don't always shake hands by default unless they're doing so to make Westerners feel more comfortable. Instead, they offer a friendly wai — a prayer-like gesture with the hands placed together in front of the chest, fingers pointing upward, head slightly bowed forward.

The wai is used as part of greetings in Thailand, for goodbyes, to show respect, gratitude, acknowledgment, and during sincere apology.

As with bowing in Japan, offering a correct wai follows a protocol based on situation and honorifics. You'll sometimes even see Thai people giving a wai to temples or pictures of the king as they pass.

To offer a deep, respectful wai, follow these steps:

1. Place your hands together centered in front of your chest with fingertips pointing up toward the chin.

1. Bow your head forward until the index fingertips touch the tip of your nose.

2. Don't maintain eye contact; look down.

3. Raise head back up, smile, keeping hands together at chest level to finish the wai.

The higher the wai in front of your body, the more respect that is shown. Elders, teachers, public officials, and other important people receive a higher wai. Monks receive the highest wai, and they do not have to return the gesture.

To offer an even more respectful wai to monks and important people, do the same as above but hold your hands higher; bow your head until thumbs touch the tip of the nose and fingertips touch brow between your eyes.

* Give monks a higher wai with your hands together and thumbs touching the nose.

* Try not to give a wai with a cigarette, pen, or other objects in your hands; instead, place the object down or dip your head in a light bow to acknowledge someone's wai. In a pinch, you can use one hand or just dip your head to show acknowledgment.

* You can sometimes accidentally cause embarrassment by offering a wai to someone of lower social standing; doing so can cause them to lose face. Avoid giving a wai to people younger than yourself and beggars. People providing a service (e.g., servers, drivers, and bellboys) will probably wai you first.

Tip: Don't worry about wai formalities! Thai people wai each other all the time and won't criticize your efforts. If you've got stuff in your hands, making any sort of bowing motion while lifting the hands will suffice for saying, "I acknowledge your wai and would love to return it but my hands are busy." Just remember to smile."

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