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January 17, 2018, 07:11:06 PM

Author Topic: When to Wai  (Read 1524 times)

Offline 2017

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When to Wai
« on: December 31, 2015, 10:30:10 AM »

Offline Wind in my breath

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Re: When to Wai
« Reply #1 on: December 31, 2015, 11:48:10 AM »
This post was put up some time back in 2009 on the same forum. This precedes the above link which Bro 2015 gave. Times do change and there might be differences from then to now. After all, culture is ever-evolving. :)


Krajog has written an interesting article in The Nation about Thai manners. Below is an extract from his blog.

There are many social customs practiced in Thailand. The most seen in Thai social customs is the greeting by wai a Thai people do for another. But it is not a standard whenever two people meet. The general rules are as follows.

1) A younger person (man or woman) is the first to greet an older person by raising both hands with palms close together to perform a “wai” (ไหว้) as a sign of respect. The young person needs to bow his/her head a little to meet both hands at about his/her nose. The common etiquette is to “wai” everyone present in a group of older persons to be courteous to all. The older persons need to accept the greeting by rub wai (รับไหว้) or wai to return the honour. A Thai people honour other people as they meet in any place by exchanging the wai. If the two parties know each other as close friends, wai is not necessary.

2) Wai is a way to express politeness and modesty by one person to another person. The accepted rules at a workplace are: it is good for junior staffer to express humbleness toward his/her unit manager or senior executives. Wai is a way to give honour to other people both in private and public areas. It’s not matter if you are older than the person who is higher in ranking. Let think about the military rule for saluting among military personnel. If you a colonel you have to salute a major general you meet at any occasion first even though you are 56 and the general is 52. Ranking and position is more important than age in official circle of every country.

3) Well-trained small girls will wai older people in a very polite way by bending her knees a little. Grown-up persons (men or women) will bow a little bit while doing a wai to much older persons, for example, father or mother of a friend or persons in top positions in their organisations. Politeness is key in Thai social etiquette, any kind of rude manner used among friends have no place in the etiquette rules for all occasions.

A wai can mean many things: a way to say sorry, a regret, an apology or begging for pardon. When a minor has made a mistake or did any bad manner unintentionally to an adult, it's good to quickly raise his hands to perform a wai. This is a basic rule. When a son or a daughter made a mistake big enough to cause any parent to feel sad. The best for the son or daughter to apologize or ask for forgiveness is to wai the parent at his or her chest. This way is done among family members only.

In certain circumstance of serious misconduct causing parents to be very upset, a teenage or a grownup child of the family may bring a jusmine flowers garland in a paan, a small gold-plated flat top container with a base underneath or a silver plate, to give to the parent and ask for the parent's kindness and forgiveness and then wai or graab the parent at her or his feet or on the laps if sitting on a chair or the floor.

A wife can ask for forgiveness from her husband with a wai at his chest if she made a grave mistake that bring sadness to her husband.

4) Laypeople have to perform a wai for monks at all time whenever wherever they meet any monk. The monks will accept your respect by saying something to greet you. Monks cannot wai ordinary people. Among them, junior monks have to wai senior monks as a rule. In religious ceremonies, the rule is to graab the senior monks. Graab is to sit on the floor in any posture and bow your head and torso down with your hands closed together and rest on the floor. Your head is to touch your hands. If the people you do the graab for is ordinary people, you don’t need to put your palms flat on the floor. Jus keep them together as in the wai form. But if you graab a monk or a Buddha image you need to put your palms flat down to the floor.

5) For small children at kindergarten age or very young grand children, Thai senior people need not to wai them in return. Parents and grandparents can accept greeting from family members in any polite way.

6) Thai people may say “Swasdi krub” or “ka”, while they perform a wai to give double greetings by word and body language at the same time. To engage in conversation further or not is up to relationship between the two parties. If the greeting by wai is done as a courtesy while a junior walking pass a senior, that is enough. It’s the same as done in Europe or America when two people say “hello” with a nod while walking pass each other on a narrow corridor or walkway.

Etiquette is a code of manner, which is different from country to country and from society to society in the same country. For example, Thai people regard their ‘head’ as a highest piece in their body. Anything considered high in Thai tradition is worthy of giving respect. This tradition makes Thai people to pay special care in their manner if it involves head and hairs of other people. Touching head of other people, particularly senior people in the family and colleagues and strangers is taboo as it is taken as an insult and serious breach of good manner. Only parents, grandparents and other senior relatives can touch the head of their small children or grandchildren. When their children or grandchildren turned into adulthood, touching head of adult family members is not proper any more. In a Thai family, sons and daughters are not allowed to touch their parents’ head as a way of showing their closeness or love.

Feet are regarded as the lowest parts of human body. So, it is not proper to use a foot to kick a cabinet door or a drawer of a filing cabinet to close in front of other people. Using a foot to point to something or kick a small object on the floor to other people even she is your secretary or a junior staff-member is a very bad manner. You may be considered an uncivilized and badly raised by your parents. They may take what you have done to them in such bad manner as an serious insult to their status as a person. Many office workers in Bangkok come from good Thai families with the sense of pride in their family background and bloodline from their ancestors. Many of them are still related to the old-time aristocrats and royal families in the past.

For foreigner living in Thailand if work in an organization or associated with some well-cultured Thais, observing Thai customs and traditions is a very good idea. They will gain respect from their Thai colleagues or friends. Respect is the most important social norm throughout this side of the world, not only in Thailand.


A fellow member in that forum who has stayed in LOS for a long time replied in another post to the above one

Well......... from what i've learnt from Thais, both those of high military/police ranks and company supervisors etc..... it slightly goes against some of what is said in this paragraph. I mean there is actually no fixed rule.

I brought up this matter about who wais first with an old girlfriend of mine who was ISO supervisor. she was 25 at the time and many of her sub-ordinates were far older than her. She explained that if her sub-ordinate was slightly older then maybe they would wai first, however if the age gap was more substantial, no wai would be given from any side.

Many years ago while staying with an army officer his friend a senior colonel came stay for a while. Again i brought the same kind of question up and he said that on meeting a major general younger than him, then the army etiquette would be for the slightly higher ranking officer to salute back at virtually the same time (so no-one was saluting the other first)

I also brought this up with at least three police guys i've known and got virtually the exact same answer as the army officer guy.

This therefore contradicts the point made here that rank is more important than age. If it is traditionally more important, it is only slightly.
« Last Edit: December 31, 2015, 11:51:48 AM by Wind in my breath »
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Offline Wind in my breath

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Re: When to Wai
« Reply #2 on: December 31, 2015, 11:58:54 AM »
To add more information to the different kinds respect and 'wai', a post by another member of that forum provided a detailed explanation.


Step-by-step and photos of Thai etiquette or มารยาทไทย (ma-ra-yart Thai) by Office of the National Culture Commission, Ministry of Culture (สำนักงานคณะกรรมการวัฒนธรรมแห่งชาติ กระทรวงวัฒนธรรม) from this link.

Standing - การยืน
1. Expressing respect to the national flag, the national anthem, and the Armies' Flags of Victory in public places
การยืนเคารพธงชาติ เพลงชาติ หรือธงชัยเฉลิมพลในที่สาธารณะ
2. Saluting the Superme Patriarch
3. Standing in salutation to royalty
การยืนถวายความเคารพพระมหากษัตริย์ และพระบรมวงศ์
4. Standing at ceremonies
การยืนในพิธีต่าง ๆ
5. Formal standing
6. Informal standing
การยืนอย่างไม่เป็นทางการ ไม่อยู่ในพิธีการต่างๆ

1. Walking in the presence of royalty
2. Walking during religious ceremonies
3. Walking at other ceremonies
การเดินในพิธีต่าง ๆ
4. Walking pass an older or a more senior person
5. Walking in front of and behind a more senior person
6. Walking on ordinary occasions

1. Sitting sideways
2. Sitting with the legs crossed
การนั่งขัดสมาธิ (สะ-หมาด)
3. Sitting in a crouching position
4. Sitting in a kneeling position
5. Sitting on a chair

1. Joined palms held at chest level
การประนมมือ (อัญชลี)
2. The raising of joined plams at three different levels
ไหว้ (วันทนา ) 3 แบบ
3. Half-prostration
การกราบ (อภิวาท)
4. Salutations to royalty
5. Other salutations
6. Accepting a salutation

Presenting and Receiving
1. Presenting to and receiving from royalty
การทูลเกล้าฯ ถวายของและการรับพระราชทานของ
2. Presenting to and receiving from a Buddhist monk
3. Presenting to and receiving from an older person

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Re: When to Wai
« Reply #2 on: December 31, 2015, 11:58:54 AM »


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