What is wai?
Wai is a form of Thai culture which represents various aspects of Thai honorific system. For example, wai shows Thai politeness, respect, honor, and friendship. Thais wai when greeting or leaving. Along with a wai, Thais usually say “sawasdee,” which means “hello” in English. The wai tradition has been succeeded to the present generation since Sukhotai Period, approximately A.D. 1238). Wai can also be used in articulating apology or gratitude. For these purposes, a person who wais usually says, “khor-thod” or “khob-khun,” respectively.
How to wai
- Put the palms together. According to Buddhism, Thais call wai “pra-nom-mue” (keep waiing all the time) or “unchalee” . When waiing, put your palms together, straighten and press your finger tips together. Raise your palms to your chest and keep your elbows close to your body. When talking to priests and the royal family, Thais always “pra-nom-mue.” When leaving these respectful people, the younger usually “unchalee” them.
- Bow your head. Wai can be in the form of “wan-ta.” In so doing, Thais bow their heads and high their palms up until the index fingers touch their mouths or noses, depending on the person who they wai.
There are many kinds of Thai wai, depending on the social status, power, age, and prestige of a person/people who receive the wai. There are three major groups of people of higher status in the traditional Thai society.
- Monks/priests/royal family
To wai people in this category, bow one’s head and raise one’s hands until the thumbs touch the forehead.
To wai these people, do the same as in (1). However, the waier’s index finger must touch the nose. This is similar to a culture in which people raise their index fingers to touch their nose when paying respect to parents and touch their mouths when paying respect to the teacher.
- Ordinary people/acquaintances with older age.
To wai someone who is older, simply raise the pressed palms to the lips/mouth.
For all these three types, keep your hands and elbows close to the body.
Do you know?
The most important thing when waiing somebody is that the waier must wai from their whole hearts. In other words, the waier should sincerely pay respect to the waied or the wai receiver both mentally and physically.
How to return/receive the wai?
If somebody gives the other a wai, it usually means that they pay respect toward him or her. To return their good manner, the wai receiver usually wai back. That is, the wai receiver does the same to the waier (i.e. put their palms together in front of their chests), but they do not bow their heads.
– Pai Pakpoom Buabthong