Thai Culture

Greetings

  • In both a formal and informal situation, Thai people greet each other with the word ‘sawadee’ followed by ‘kah’ for females and ‘kraap’ (soft r) for males.
  • It is normal to refer to someone of a perceived higher status by the title ‘Khun’ (Mr/Ms) followed by their first name. For example, a shop assistant would refer to their customer through the term ‘Khun’.
  • People of the same age or who are close friends will omit the use of the title khun.
  • Generally, nicknames are only used when invited to do so.
  • When making introductions, Thais will tend to introduce a man to a woman and a younger person to an older person.
  • In an international context, a handshake is an acceptable greeting. However, a male may only shake a female’s hand if she extends it to him first.


The Wai

Greetings are accompanied by the gesture known as a ‘wai’, which is the placing of two palms together, with fingertips touching the nose. A wai indicates the level of respect for another person and is an acknowledgement of seniority. A person should bow their head with their palms pressed together to indicate respect. The depth of the bow and the level of the hands represents the level of respect. Whilst this form of greeting is still widely used, the younger generation are not as rigid in their adherence to the customary wai.


  • A senior person may politely wai in return to a person who is younger or subordinate to them. This is usually done with their hands at chest level (fingertips not touching the face) and only a slight bowing of the head, resembling a nod. This wai, known as a ‘rap wai’, is an acknowledgement of the other person.
  • To indicate respect for parents, teachers and the elderly, the pressed palms of the wai should be higher so the thumbs come into contact with the nose and the fingertips sit between the eyebrows.
  • Young children bend their knees when they wai; adults should not do this.
  • There is a wai reserved for Buddha images, monks and the royal family that involves prostration. This wai is only for religious or royal contexts.


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