How to WAI in Thailand
The general rule is that you wai (the formal Thai greeting of respect) to a person older or in a more superior position to yourself and that he or she then returns the wai. Like all rules, there are exceptions. Returning a wai is not an automatic response.
The King only makes a wai to a monk (as the monk is in a sense a representative of the Buddha). Monks do not return a wai. A superior will not always return the wai from a subordinate. However, if a manager met one of his staff outside the office and the staff member was with her parents, he would return the wai.
Don’t return the wai when a child wais you. Just nod and smile.
On my first visit to Thailand we were eating in a restaurant and there was a large party sitting opposite us. There were a dozen or so people with a very important looking guy at the head of the table. He was probably the boss and his guests were staff members. I wasn’t shocked when he failed to return the wai from the waitress, that is not required from serving staff.
But I thought it was the height of bad manners when he called her over from the other end of the restaurant just to top up his glass of beer. The bottle was right next to his glass. It was not as if it was a high class restaurant with attentive sommeliers around to cater for your every whim. He did not even nod his head or thank her.
Let me say though that she showed no sign of embarrassment. Thais hide their feelings. She may well have been seething inside. As Westerners, we have to accept the customs of other nations and adapt accordingly ourselves. I would never have copied that guy’s manners though. I would have filled the glass myself or, if she had come over, I would have smiled and nodded my thanks.
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