Sunday, January 31, 2010

To Wai or not to Wai:

Even Ronald McDonald "wais" in Thailand. A wai is your basic "hello" gesture, accompanied by a "Sa was di ka." You put your hands together in a praying gesture and bow slightly. How high you put your hands (at your chest, your nose or even your forehead) and how low you bow is based on the seniority of the person you are wai-ing.

Seniority is really important here. So much so that people are always asking how old you are so they can figure out how much seniority you have. It's not considered rude--just an important part of paying proper respect. (Alas, I have way too much seniority!)

The deepest wais are reserved for Buddhas, members of royalty and revered monks. The person with the lowest seniority initiates the wai--and the one with the highest seniority may choose to nod his/her head, simply smile, or return the wai.

Now here's the rub: Technically, you don't wai certain persons or you will look like an idiot who doesn't understand the custom at all.

Students always wai teachers but teachers aren't supposed to wai back. You just nod and smile.

Shop keepers or anyone trying to sell you something, serve you in a restaurant or otherwise get your business, will always wai you--but you don't wai back because you are the lofty customer. You just smile and nod.

When someone is your "equal", you ALWAYS wai back--even if your hands are full, which makes for some interesting, awkward wais.

Farangs easily get the concept of wai-ing--but always have a knee-jerk reaction to wai anyone who wais them. I myself find it hard not to wai the adorable kids who run up to me in the school yard wai-ing as if I were Buddha's best friend.

And how do you not wai someone who just gave you a great massage?

For that matter, how do you know who's your "equal"--or not? As an "all-men-are-created-equal kinda gal," I do tend to think I should wai everyone.

When in doubt, we are told to wai only as deeply and respectfully as we have been waied. Which means you need to pay attention. How low did they go and where were their hands?

To wai or not to wai...that is the question.

P.S. Ronald does NOT get a wai. That much is clear.


  1. So you have to wai back no matter what I bet those awkward moments are legendary but they HAVE to be used to them

  2. very interesting stuff! (and confusing) "Wai" it up, aunt pam!

  3. your posts and pics are just awesome, mom! keep 'em up! we're all out here following along and missing you!!! — Sarah

  4. Well you should at least get the Wais down if you can't get the language down :)