Meeting and Greeting
When being introduced or greeting someone, men say Sawatdee-krap and women say Sawatdee-kah. Each ending whether it be krap or kah signifies the masculine or feminine response to being polite. Thais greet each other with a “wai.” Instead of a bow or handshake. Although foreigners are not expected to initiate the wai gesture, it is certainly an insult not to return the wai. Do not worry if a wai is not offered to you. You can simply shake hands if it is a man and smile and nod if it is women. A Thai businessperson may shake hands with a foreigner. You may offer a wai only to a person of equal or greater status. Those who are subordinates should offer a wai first.
Perhaps you are wondering what a wai is. A wai (wpronounced like the word why) is when a person places the palm of his or her hands together, with their fingers extended at chest level close to their body and bows slightly. Another note for wai is that he higher the hands are placed, the more respect is shown. Subordinates might raise their fingers as high as their nose. However, the tips of their fingers should never be above eye level. A wai can mean several responses such as: “Hello,” “Thank you,” “I’m sorry,” or “Goodbye.” Still, a wai is not used to greet children, servants, street vendors or laborers. Remember, these groups are considered to be subordinates. As tempting as it may be it is not necessary to return a wai to a child, waiter, or clerk. You can simply nod and smile in response. Another group, the monks, do not return a wai.
In many places around the world a friend or neighbor will greet you with “Hello”. In Thailand you will be greeted with a smile and the question of “Where are you going” rather than “Hello.” A polite response is “Just down the street.”
Introductions are common only in a formal situation.
Introduce yourself by your first name. You may feel free to introduce yourself and to ask of someone else’s name. In introductions of your business partner to an important Thai person, mention your partner’s name first. The inferior, or lower-status person, is always addressed first in an introduction. For example, a child is introduced before its parents, a secretary is introduced before her boss.
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