The Thai Wai Greeting

  • Thai people greet each other with a gesture similar to the one in the picture opposite. Thai people do not shake hands like people in the west. They place the palms and fingers of both their hands together as in a prayer position in the center of their bodied and at different levels depending upon the level of gesture as explained below. This Thai greeting gesture is called a '' wai '' and is pronounced more like '' why '' in English.
  • The greeting gesture is also accompanied with a slight bow. The various positions and gestures can be very graceful and expressive, show respect, authority, submissiveness happiness and obedience. The different levels of position of the joined hands shows different degrees of respect. The higher the joined hands are held in relation to the face is an indication or more respect or reverence. The wai is also used to say '' sorry '' or '' thank you ''.
  • For Thai people the gestures are complex but foreigners are not expected to understand this aspect of Thai culture in detail. But for those who do try to understand and participate correctly then you start to be more integrated into Thai society and culture.
Origins of the Wai
  • The Wai is common in Southeast Asia in the Buddhist countries of Cambodia and Laos. It is not a religious practice but can be part of rituals in religious observance.  Southeast Asia was subjected to a process of Indianisation and so probably the Wai has its origins in the Indian practice of '' Namaste ''. This is a similar gesture common in Nepal and India and apart from being a social gesture is also a symbol of respect and even foreigners can automatically see that it is a gesture of respect. . Here also it is not only a religious gesture, but a social one also. However it also reflects religious or spiritual meaning.
  • The Thai means of mutual recognition is to raise both hands, joined at the palm to Palm lightly touching the body somewhere between the face and the chest. The higher the hands are raised the greater is the respect and courtesy conveyed to the other. The person deemed inferior in age or rank in the Thai social scale of precedence initiates the movement of the hands and the person receiving the salutation immediately reciprocates. This Thai salutation may be implemented while sitting, standing, walking or even lying in bed if ill or injured. At all times the movement is slow and graceful and definitely not fast.


Thai Wai Thai lady giving a wai