How to respond to a wai in an interview
The formal Thai greeting:
When you decide to migrate to a foreign country adjusting to its culture may put forth some challenges.
Gestures and customs that are acceptable in one country may be considered offensive in other. Settling down to a foreign land would require you to adjust and adopt the ways of the native. It may take some time to acclimatize to a different culture. So, you must start preparing yourself even before you land there.
If you are one of the hundred foreigners working in Thailand you must master the technique of formally greeting one in Thailand.Not knowing the proper way of formal greeting can cause you quite a few discomforts. The formal Thai greeting is called wai and Thais use the same gesture in many other circumstances as well.
Wai is the formal way of greeting in Thailand. Thais would fold their hands together in a gesture of offering prayer and hold them before themselves while slightly bowing down their heads in greetings.
But you may also find them using the same gesture while:
• Saying goodbye
• Sowing respect
• Offering thanks
It is an honorific gesture that Thais use as formal, polite gesture to confer a variety of emotion – honor, gratitude, apology, friendship etc. At your workplace you must be careful to show proper respect and respond to a wai.
The wai in the society
The wai also signifies one’s position in the society. Normally, to respect to a person who is highly placed in the society or your workplace the hands are generally held higher than chest level. The same rule will also apply when you greet someone older.
You must acquaint yourself with the dos and don’ts of waiing. It is not important to wai at everyone you meet in Thailand. Wai is a formal gesture reserved for revered and respectable individuals. While Thais can use a variety of wai greetings it can be difficult for a foreigner to recognize them all but as a rule of thumb a wai is always initiated by someone who is lower in rank or social status.
Following are the three main groups and the formal ways to wai at them
• While greeting the royal family or the monks close your palms and bow your head till your index finger touches your forehead.
• When greeting parents/teachers or a senior member bow you head down till your index finger touches you nose
• Bow down so that your index fingers touch your mouth while greeting an old acquaintance or a superior in the workplace.
While greeted with a wai in your interview respond back by holding your hands together at the chest level and bowing down so that you index fingers touch your lips. Not returning a wai is regarded impolite.
At the office
Normally, someone younger or socially junior will initiate the wai, i.e. a child will initiate a wai and a junior in office will initiate wai to the boss or manager. Not returning a wai is regarded rude, unless there is a great social difference between the two people. Normally, while greeting the royal and the monks you must bend down your head so that your index fingers touch your forehead.
In office while greeting your senior or manager bend your head and bring your hands up to your lips. The title kun precedes the name of a person (both male and female) while referring to someone of similar or higher status. Thais normally greet each other by the first name and the last name is used only for very formal introduction. You may find your boss addressing you by the first name but that doesn’t signify familiarity.
If you are assigned the task of introducing your manager to a team of delegates always introduce the juniors first and lastly introduce the manager.
Non-verbal communication in thai society is as important as verbal communication. So it may pay off to learn to interpret body-language of your Thai business partners or colleagues. Thai people are very polite. So, while greeting a prospective thai manager always be respectful and courteous.