Why Wai?

McDonald's Wai
Image Source: http://bit.ly/22nutW1

There were 5 monks in office on Friday. It has been 6 years since the office moved to this location and they renewed their contract for another three years. Thailand’s biggest festival, Songkran, is this week and so they used the occasion to get the office blessed. As the monk strolled around office, blessing it with holy water, I stood up, as you do when someone of a high status passes you by.

I got told off immediately. I heard panic cries of – ‘Sit down, sit down!’ So I did, in a confused daze. Turns out that unlike with any other religion that I’m familiar with where you stand up as a sign of respect, in Buddhism you make sure that when a monk passes you buy, he towers over you. Being only 5 foot naught, I easily was a few inches taller than him.

There’s other etiquette that’s just as important. Being Indian, you unconsciously pick these up as you go long. For example, you never sit with your legs outstretched in front of you. All Indian kids know how to sit cross legged on the floor. Other things you can’t do in the presence of holiness includes yawning, giggling, chewing loudly, showing off your shoulders etc.

Thailand is full of polite gestures and words, the most interesting of which is the Wai. Apart from ending each sentence with a ká (female) or a kráp (male), you also enter or exit a conversation by folding your palms together in a greeting. It is right in the center of all Thai etiquette and looks sort of like a Namaste but depending on the placement of your hand, it shows their status in relation to you.

Thai Wai
Image Source: http://bit.ly/1SIDnZa

With your hands pressed together and with a slight bow, here’s how you greet these people.

  • Monks – Thumbs between eyebrows, index fingers touch forehead.
  • Teachers, Older People – Thumbs on the tip of your nose, index fingers between your eyebrows.
  • Peers – Thumbs touch your chin, index fingers touch the tip of your nose.
  • Everyone else – do a normal Namaste, hands in front of chest.

You get a hang of it once you’ve been here long enough. When we first moved here, I made a fool of myself multiple times. One of the stories is how when a waitress asked me if I wanted a glass of white wine (they don’t pronounce the last syllables and so it sounds like wai wai), I ended up bowing a billion times instead of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’. More to follow, I’m sure.

Hope you are all well.

8 thoughts on “Why Wai?

  1. Ooh, so much behind such a simple gesture!

    You are so,so lucky to be experiencing this side of Thailand. Like I have told you before, we visited Thailand for only a few days, and were awed by it. We still talk about the days we spent in Thailand, with great fondness. We’d love to visit again, sometime! You are also lucky to be there right in the middle of Songkran! 🙂 Enjoy!

    Liked by 2 people

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