Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Wai - More Than Meets the Eye

One of the defining and memorable features for the visitor to Thailand is the Wai or the ‘Thai Traditional Salutation’. It is the Thai equivalent of our handshake. It is the accepted way of greeting both friend and stranger. It is to me however more meaningful, engaging and charming than our Western handshake. To start with it requires more effort – both hands are raised, palms are joined and lightly touching the body somewhere between the chest and forehead. But this simple action can convey so much more meaning. The higher the hands are raised the greater the respect is being conveyed. It is also expected that the more junior of the two, whether it be rank or age, should be the first to give the Wai. The senior person returning the Wai would do so no higher than the chest. There is also a very close link between the position of the head and the Wai – the junior’s head must never be above that of his senior or superior. I recall a time when the wife and I were returning from Hat Yai having narrowly avoided a terrorist bombing. Our plane was delayed because the Royal Prince, who had been visiting injured soldiers, took priority over all commercial flights. Hat Yai airport was teeming with top military brass forming some guard of honour and it was fascinating to watch how the lower ranks behaved towards their superiors. If a senior officer was seated the lower ranks would virtually crawl past to maintain the appropriate head position. There is a lot more to the Wai with deeper gestures of respect and I again refer those interested in acquiring more in-depth understanding to Denis Segaller’s books on traditional Thai customs.

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