Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Thai Wai

It recently occurred to me that I rather like the Thai people's custom of wai-ing one another. What prompted this thought was seeing two kids playing separately with their respective friends, and one accidentally bumping into the other. The bumper quickly turned to the bumped and wai-ed him, and the other boy wai-ed back. Then the boys returned to play with their friends. No words were exchanged. But in that quick gesture, an acknowledgment of fault, an apology, and acceptance of apology were conveyed. Sweet, simple, and respectful.

The wai is a Thai greeting that consists of a slight bow, with the hands pressed together in a praying gesture. Kind of like the Indian namaste. It is a greeting to say hello and goodbye, to show respect, to express gratitude, and to apologize, as I stated above. In short, it is extremely common and is used by everyone every day. I see parents wai-ing one another, teachers wai-ing parents and vice versa, people wai-ing each other on the streets and in shops, and kids wai-ing parents and teachers. On the days I pick up my son after school or when I happen to be at the school, I see his Thai classmates walk up to their Thai friends' parents and wai them sweetly. It is an endearing and charming sight. So much better than kids running up to the parents and screaming their greetings.

When we first got to Thailand, we were shown this video on how to wai properly. Who knew it could be so complicated? To this day, though, I still can't do it appropriately in accordance to the status of the person I'm wai-ing. It's also not a natural, reflexive thing for me to do, so when someone wais me, sometimes I just freeze and forget what to do! But I love how such a simple gesture can convey so much.

Even Ronald McDonald has adopted the local custom!

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