In this video, we will answer the question “When do Thais wai? Who should I and should I not wai?”

You will learn about the very important Thai gesture, “wai,” which is used in greeting and several other occasions. After watching the video, you will have a clear understanding of how, when and who to wai, and be able to use it correctly like the local people.


Q: When do Thais “ไหว้ [wai]”? Who should I and should I not wai?

A: If you come to Thailand, one of the first things you may notice is the way we greet each other. We don’t shake hands, kiss or hug each other like in many other cultures. Instead, we put our hands together in front of our chest (“พนมมือ [panom meu]”) and lower our head (“ก้มหัว [gôm hǔa]”). The complete gesture is called “ไหว้ [wâai]” and it’s a way to show respect to people you greet.

Are you supposed to wai everyone you see? No, Thai people only wai people who are older or of a higher status. We usually don’t wai people who are younger, or of a lower or equal status. When it comes to who you should and shouldn’t wai, you need to consider two things, age and status.

For example, a younger monk will not wai you. On the contrary, you’re expected to wai him. Someone in a service position might wai a younger client, unless the age gap is big. It’s not unusual though, to wai someone younger or of a lower status in return, after they wai you.

Are you expected to wai as a foreigner? No, we don’t expect you to wai, but if you do, your willingness to learn, understand and follow our culture will be greatly appreciated. On the other hand, don’t hug or kiss anyone to greet them. For a hand shake, some people may expect to do it with a foreigner but those who haven’t been exposed much to foreign cultures may not be comfortable or may be awkward with it. In that case, verbal greeting may work better.

Do Thais ever shake hands with each other? Very rarely. It’s something we usually only do with foreigners.

Now, back to “ไหว้ [wâai]”, is there only one way to wai? No, placing your hands in front of your chest is the most common way to wai but depending on who you wai, the position of your hands can go higher. If you wai a monk, for example, your hands should be placed in front of your forehead instead of your chest.

Do Thai people only wai to say hello? No, we also wai when we part and say bye too. But again, only to people who are more senior. Not only that, we also wai when we thank someone. You can wai and at the same time, say “ขอบคุณ [khàwp khun]” which means “thank you.” We sometimes wai as we say “ขอโทษ [kǎw tôde],” which means “I’m sorry,” when we apologize to someone. In some less common situations, “ไหว้ [wâai]” can also be used when asking for things. For example, a homeless person may wai you to ask for change.

What are other times Thai people wai? When we go to temples and pray, we also put our hands together in front of our chest and sometimes close our eyes, as we say the prayers. This can be directed at a monk or a buddha statue, either of which can be referred to as “พระ [prá].” This action is called “ไหว้พระ [wâai prá].”

When someone wais me, what am I supposed to do? Just nod your head and say “สวัสดี [sawaddee],” if they greet you, or say “ไม่เป็นไร [mai pen rai],” if they wai to thank you. “ไม่เป็นไร [mai pen rai]” is what we usually respond to a thank. It literally means “It’s nothing,” but it’s used to say “You’re welcome.”

But with people in a service position, such as hotel clerks or servers at restaurants, you don’t really have to say anything back, because they kind of just routinely do it as part of their job. You can simply nod your head to acknowledge their gesture. If you’re not sure what to do, the best thing to do is observe how Thai people interact more in real life and do what they do.

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