You Can’t Expect Thai People to “Wai” You Anymore Because…..

Another interview questions from Gemma Font from Spain for her topic in Thai Studies major. She wanted to know the Thai way of greeting and giving opinions. Here we go.

1. What is the usual way of introducing two strangers when they meet for the first time?

Greeting and introducing people in Thailand is like any other part of the world but seniority may be a concern when two people with age or experience gap are met. The middle person will notify them beforehand who is the ‘P’ (the senior or elder) and who is the ‘Nong’ (the junior or younger).

Middleman: “Beau, this is P’Aey. She is 4th year in major asdfjkl;”
Beau: “Hi, P’Aey. I am Beau. I’m 2nd year in major asdfjkl;”

It’s not necessary to be like this pattern but I observe that it is customary that the younger/junior person will initiate the greeting first. Then, the elder will respond. You may see that the greeting may not require “Wai” because young people nowadays (Myself included) are awkward with Wai-ing people of similar ages. However, this can be subtly influenced by the fact of the traditional “Wai” rule that the junior will initiate the Wai to the elder whilst the elder will ‘receive’ the Wai and respond in return.


2. Is there any difference when they introduce a foreigner?

Concern about seniority may be an exception for Caucasian and other Asian that Thai may be culturally unfamiliar with. (For example, East Asians from Korea and Japan. I have no clue why Chinese have more potential to be integrated into the Thai people’s social circle.)

Informing who is P and Nong will be omitted at this part. So the main concerns become 1) Nationality 2) What does that person do?

Middleman: “Beau, this is XYZ. She is from ABC country. She’s working as an xyz at xyz.”


3. Which is the usual way of greeting in Thailand?

For young generation i.e. those who were born in 2000 – 1981, I have a sense that we are pretty awkward to greet with formal “Wai” gesture. We prefer to give that person a nice welcoming smile followed by EITHER nodding OR giving a bye-bye gesture up at your chest. Well, it is not exactly a bye-bye gesture. We raise one of our hands up and shake fingers. Just fingers, not swinging the whole hand to left and right.

I am sure it depends on how much the age or experience gap is, though….

If I greeted a person who is 3 years older than I am, I would just smile, say hello, tell my name and who I am, who are you? That’s enough. If I greeted a person who is 10+ years older than I am, I would feel consciously compelled to do the Wai with my forehead touching the tip of my fingers.

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This is close but more fingers shaking!

So I could say that the usual way of greeting in Thailand is smiling! Yes, smile! Smile means everything here! You may think “Isn’t it “Wai” a signature of Thai culture?” I cannot guarantee because I answer with a perspective of a young gen Thai. The perception that every Thai will Wai you is an old school myth that has been commonly mentioned in mainstream travel guidebooks for me.


4. Are there any different kinds of greeting?

Other kinds of greeting would be giving high five! Yeah, you cannot high five with older people (clearly much older, I mean) as it is inappropriate. Another would be light hugging but this way is not very common in a country where physical contact in public is not mannerly approved.

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5. In which situations do they use one or another?

Definitely in an informal setting. You can high five people on the street. Hugging is displayable at places that involve departure or farewell bidding e.g. airport, bus terminal, train station, etc. It would be uncommon to hug people on the street, lol.


6. Which is the usual treatment they use between equals?

Smile, nodding a bit or giving the bye-bye/fingers shaking gesture, say your name, tell who you are, done.

You may find it weird to make the bye-bye gesture for greeting people, but I observe it is the way we do.


7. Does Thai society have different kinds of treatments?

Of course, there must be different kinds of treatments.  I, speaking for 20-something Thai people, will keep my manner when I am with 30+ years old people. Our greeting is not only saying hello and done. It includes the way how the younger should serve or facilitate the elder.

I would pour the drink for them before I pour my own. I would arrange the eating utensils for them before I get for my own. I would ask them the food they would like to order and I write down on the note and pass it to the waitpersons. I would let them try the food first before I will spoon my own. Or I would even spoon the best thing/the largest shrimp in the dish and land it onto their plate before I get myself mushroom and soup. I would fill the drink and ice when theirs is nearly empty before I do for my own. If I got into a car as a passenger, I would have to take the middle position of rear seat so that they will get the window position. They will see the view and get off the car easily. They must come first.

All these manners are a part of making good impression as well as greeting.


8. What do they think about giving your opinion?

It may sound sugar coating or politically correct to answer that it depends on what type of people you meet. Personally, I have been raised by a traditional (+ narrow worldview) family so it is integrated into my personality to become conscious that I should stay silent. I am secretly rebellious because if I “give my opinion”, they would blame me for “arguing with them”.

Yes, when a younger gives their own opinion, it’s most likely to be misinterpreted as being
1) a hothead person
2) an ill-mannered person who lacks the concern about ‘who should be elder/superior and who should be junior/inferior’
3) a troll who wants to win by ‘claiming’ anything in order to win
4) a competitive person, a badass.

I experienced this kind of situation a lot. If I gave my opinion, the elder would automatically have their self-defence mechanism by replying that “You were born after I had been, therefore I have experienced the world longer and better than you’ve been doing’. I hate this notion of “I was born before you, therefore my reasoning is more valid.”

I realise it is no use voicing your thought to them but most of the time I couldn’t help my mouth from slipping. I am a hothead competitive badass so I think in a way that “Just because you were born before me doesn’t mean your reasoning is valid. The condition that you experienced during 1960s has already been a different story for people in 2010s.” Worldview and behaviours of that person will be the key point to earn my sincere respect, not ages.

If I was going to meet an elder person with different worldview, my friend would always forewarn me “Beau, s/he is having older people’s mindset, please do not mind him/her.” Then, I would instantly know how I should behave in front of them.

Although I could say there are open-minded elder people, I still have some sense that they are not really entirely open-minded compared with when I converse with western people. I do not want to sound like I’m being colonised by western influence but my intuition says that people from the collectivism society tend to be less genuinely open-minded than those from individualism society. It may sound like I’m being judgemental. Yes, I am. You can call that.

So far, I have practiced my compromising way of voicing my opinion to elder people. My suggestion would be following these steps:
1) Flatter their opinions
2) Put some conjunction that will lead to the other different topic
3) Hint the content of your opinion
4) Speak out your opinion subtly
5) Don’t forget to go back to what they firmly believe and flatter them

9. Is there any difference between men and women?

Wonderful question! When I was young, I tried to hide my true identity when I was exposed to the online sphere that I was a female. I often completed my sentences with “Krab” and made them sound as much masculine as possible.

Looking back to when I was 12-17, currently I am able to realise that I was victimised by the patriarchal environment. At those ages, I felt that my reasoning would get less attention and validation from the public if I revealed my identity that I was a female. I assumed (when I was young) that people thought that if the reasons/comments/articles were made by females, they would think it was shallow because women were perceived to be more emotional and have less logic than men did. If I wanted to be perceived as a professional or a smart person, I should delude people that I was a guy. I was so good at practicing my masculine commenting/writing that many girls on the Internet fell in love for me and wanted me to flirt with them, lol.

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Growing up, now I start to embrace myself for what I am. However, I can feel that this gender disparity associated with smartness still exists in society. Anyway, I’m not going to disguise myself as a man anymore. (I can’t guarantee this because the English language itself is more gender-neutral than Thai. You don’t need to start a sentence with a gender-identifying pronoun to address yourself and add “Krab/Ka” to end the sentence.)

Speaking about the politeness in language between men and women, I have a story to tell. Women were expected not to address themselves with “Goo” (impolite “I”) and the 2nd person with “Mung” (impolite “You”). Men were expected not to use Goo & Mung with women either because that man would be perceived as non-chivalrous. Anyway, walk down the street or socialise with Thai of any backgrounds nowadays and you will find that women in this era use “Goo” and “Mung” on a daily basis. Women use Goo & Mung with both male and female friends. Meanwhile, men also use Goo & Mung when speaking with women. Boyfriends and girlfriends use Goo & Mung, too. What used to be defined as vulgarity 20 years ago is now deemed outdated.


10. How do they manage the small conflicts or arguments?
 (For example when you are talking with another person in the street and you don’t agree on something: do they discuss their points of view, do they avoid this situation…)

Being politically incorrect myself, I dare say they would gossip behind your back because people are uncomfortable with confrontation. People just go passive-aggressive. They might do online shaming or make things of what you said a big deal.

The most compromising way of avoiding confrontation is not mentioning about it at all. Stay silent as I do with elder people as it is pointless to justify your thought.

If two persons of different political views were met, they would not discuss about it when they were together in person as the topic is provocative. One would prefer watching the yellow-shirt’s channel in their own room whilst the other would do vice versa and both of them would vent out on Pantip.com

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11. What taboos or controversial topics do they have?

Listed below:

  1. Politics (royalist, Thaksin, the dynasty, K, Q, the next heir to the throne, Netiwit & Aum Neko, Buddha Issara monk, etc.) ANYTHING THAT VIOLATES THE ARTICLE 112 AND WILL LAND YOU IN A JAIL.
  2. Educational institutions: Chula vs Thammasart, Rajabhat vs other public universities, vocational degree vs high school certificate degree, public vs private university, anything involved with Chula should be avoided, etc.)
  3. Pre-marital intercourse and moving-in, virginity for marriage
  4. Pervert/NSFW content
  5. Islamic fellows
  6. Superstition
  7. To stand or not to stand in the movie or theatre
  8. To stand or not to stand during the public play of the national anthem
  9. What you are pissed by Thai culture and people
  10. Comparing Thailand with other countries
  11. International controversy
  12. Labelling that Thailand was a buffer state during the WW2 (Boost their national ego, please.)
  13. The insurgency in the 3 southernmost provinces
  14. Discussing in historical perspective about what Thailand did with Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar. They wouldn’t accept the truth because they would have never heard of it.
  15. Saying Thai food is not delicious. People may question that you have a paralysed tastebud. I guess this might be the most offensive thing you could ever say to a Thai. Food is probably one of the few things Thai people could be proud of because we have limited spaces for international competition.
  16. Saying that Thai language sounds funny.
  17. Dhammakaya denomination. You don’t know if that person is a Dhammakaya believer themselves.
  18. Compare Thailand to North Korea
  19. Never show any sign of negativity that the ubiquity of ladyboys here is a weird, ridiculous and sinful thing. Well, I can’t guarantee. You might find homophobic Thai people here. However, if you say that ladyboys are gross, I will punch you in the face. I am proud of them.

    When Chinese and Vietnamese jokingly mock any guys in their country who are travelling in Thailand that those guys are in Thailand for sex reassignment surgery, I want to act like a YouTube troll and comment “You homophobic dudes!”

    When my Indonesian friends visited Bangkok and took photos of a trans-lady on the BTS without her permission, I was pissed and instantly complained in front of them. Although their religious context is understandable and I should understand that but “Just because you have barely seen trans-ladies in your country and you think they are weird and sinful that doesn’t mean you can take them like a zoo animal for your entertainment. They are not giraffes or penguins. She is not a funny object for you to take photos without permission because she has heart and soul like you do. That is a bad manner and you stop it.”

  20. Don’t point out the truth that Thailand is a hub of whorehouses, drug trafficking, human trafficking, wildlife trafficking, etc. The truth is widely known yet unbearable to hear!
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