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When to "Wai"
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Thread: When to "Wai"

  1. #1
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    When to "Wai"

    I did a search, surprisingly nothing came up...So when to "wai"?

    I read the book "Thais Mean Business" The author is an anthropologist living in Thailand. From what I recall he said that many foreigners make a fool out of themselves by extending the "wai" to doormen, drivers, etc...

    On the other hand, it can be an insult to not return a "wai," unless there is great social or age distance between the two people.

    So my question is: What is considered adequate social or age difference to not return a "wai"?

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    Re: When to "Wai"

    And then, there is the whole business of how to give the wai!

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    Re: When to "Wai"

    My new travel blog: https://www.weekender.blog/

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    Re: When to "Wai"

    Sorry this is a long post;

    I am always reticent to weigh in on the "wais in Thai" threads because evidently I have a skewed perception on the notion of it.

    I also find it strange that in another post you said you studied Thai 8 hours a day for a year before coming here, yet are searching for info on the “Thai wai”. Be that as it may; Google gave “about 9,500,000 results in 0.25 seconds” to the term, so I’m sure some of them are relevant to your quest.

    I believe understanding Thai culture (as the Thais try to sell it to us) and mindlessly buying into it, to fit in here or "be more like a Thai", because you happen to live here, are completely different things.

    I make no excuses and in fact am proud to be an American; "born, bred and corn fed". What I am most definitely NOT is Thai. I have my own "culture" and "traditions" thanx just the same. I also live here legally, by choice, NOT chance. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand and accept the cultural norms which dictate Thai behavior in social situations. However I don't copy them any more than I copied the actions of any other countries people when I lived there.

    The Thai concept of the wai is a set of convoluted rules at best, and foreigners seem to have trouble wrapping their head around the "rules 'o wai'ing" (this could possibly be why you see so many totally clueless foreigners wandering around wai’ing every limbless beggar, 7/11 worker, doorman, waiter and Soi dog here). Thais don’t have that problem because it’s the first action pounded into their heads right after learning to stand up unassisted, in fact I’ve seen Thai adults with teensy-tiny babies, hold the kids hands in a wai, so they start to do it on “auto-pilot”.

    Thais will routinely wai people of higher social or economic standing, people who are better educated, people who are in supervisory positions, people who are older, monks, etc. Politicians seem to be some of the most wai-happy Thais, because they're thanking their constituents for putting them in office. If you ask a Thai, they'll say it's given as a sign of respect, however, Thais have done this so long, for so many generations I don't think they even really know WHY they do it anymore, they just do.

    I’ve observed this much; depending on a persons status (and as I said, the criteria is sketchy at best), there is an adjustment of hand position in relation to where on the chest the hands (palms together) are placed. It appears to ‘start’ from just below a persons breast bone (at a point where you're really strugglin' to get your palms to touch), and progresses up your chest (depending on the deference given to the person being wai'd), until for royalty your hands are at the top of your head. Although it's unlikely any foreigner will ever meet Thai royalty, it is good to know in case you do.

    I have not seen Thais wai service staff anywhere (although they will acknowledge a wai from them with a head nod). Rarely will Thais wai people they’re around every single day (like co-workers, especially of equal slightly higher or lesser rank). Kids will routinely wai their parents, older people etc, again because deference is given to age here. Personally I’ve met more than my share of old people who were “dumb as a box ‘o rocks”, so I don’t really defer all that much that you’ve managed to live so long.

    I've been here 7 years almost continually, yet never ever wai'd even a single Thai here. FWIW I've met Thais off all walks of life, tons of monks, the power brokers, movers and shakers of this country, "famous people" (according to the Thais), tons of tenured uni professors, (and by happenstance; the last 5 prime ministers), yet never ever wai'd a one.

    I have three t-shirts made up in English; which say;
    “Why wai, are you Thai?”
    "Stupid foreigner; wais are for Thais"
    “Never wai’d, never will, deal with it”.

    As you can see, my take on the “Thai wai” is in stark contrast to most foreigners here, but that's okay..


    NOTE 2 Modz: if this is too controversial of a reply, and/or strays too close to the line, please just delete it. I promise to restrain myself from commenting on topics of this nature again.

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    Re: When to "Wai"

    I think it is very important that you don't "wai the dog". However, farang can learn to wai appropriately as a way to show their respect for Thai culture and traditions.

    Here in Melbourne I wai first to my teacher and his wife (who are both older than me and both very learned people), monks (of course) and everyone at Tuesday night meditation who is older than me and is Thai or Lao. Thai people at Tuesday night meditation who are younger than me but are friends usually wai me first, as I teach English to monks, have studied Thai for six years and am "the same as Thai." I always return the wai in egalitarian mode (ie: I respect you as much as you respect me). Some waiting staff here usually wai me and I always return it. There are some restaurant/ take away owners who I wai first as they are my elders and respected members of the community. Some close Thai friends wai me on certain occasions (when I give them souvenirs etc) but as closer friends we don't normally wai.

    When in Thailand I spend a reasonable amount of time at Wats (evening meditations etc) and I will wai to pretty much everybody who is older than me as a way of breaking the ice. Often I have extended conversations with shopkeepers or eatery owners and, if they are older than me, I usually wai as I take my leave.

    Deferring to my elders and respecting those who defer to me as an elder are the common themes I guess.

    I will wai passport control officials, police and military people first even if they are younger than me if it is an appropriate occasion to wai.

    Australians and New Zealanders have a strong history of egalitarianism as distinct from individualism - we don't defer to power too readily but we are reasonably inclined to defer to our elders. That might explain a different attitude on my behalf to the way Tod sees it.
    You can read blogs about Thailand at - www.Thai-Blogs.com

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    Re: When to "Wai"

    'O' no! Is tod daniels the new paul.au? They have so much in common....7 years in Thailand and never returned a Wai.......that would be the same as Paul, if he was 7 years in the country and never buying any lady dinner.....

    David...that is the best artical I have read on the subject...Thanks.
    “ The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. ”
    - Chinese Proverb

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    Re: When to "Wai"

    it's funny how a wai can become an ideological / philosophical issue :-)
    my take is, choose your battles carefully, if I want to emphasise being different in customs and habits, I would have a go at things like the neighbour letting his dog shit in front of my gate and not clean it up all the time. or my boss not even making the faintest attempt to plan ahead (a very Thai trait, unfortunately). or the million other little annoying nuances.
    the way the OP put the question, it's easy: I think it is impolite not to return a wai, unless it was by a service person / cashier / air hostess / doorman etc. for a simple tourist, I think this could be the easy and simple ground rule. not many other people would wai a tourist first, anyway.

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    Re: When to "Wai"

    To be honest I'm a bit lazy when it comes to the Thai wai, It's something I should do more often.

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    Re: When to "Wai"

    I have wai'd to everybody I respected and wanted to thank. By choice.
    Never hit someone below the belt; for you are not the creator.

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    Re: When to "Wai"

    I like this practice of wai-ing. I love to see Thais doing it for whatever reasons they may have. And eventhough I am not Thai, I like doing it myself whenever it is appropriate. It is in the same vein that I find it heartwarming to see Japanese or Koreans bow to each other, or Filipnos kiss the hands of their elders, to show respect. These are traditions I would hate to lose to modernity.

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