In Spain and France, we greeted with hola or bonjour, and exchanged air kisses. In Morocco, we shook hands and touched our chest. In India, we clasped our hands, and greeted with namaste. In Thailand, we do something called a wai.
When greeting in Thailand, you clasp both your hands in front of your chest (that was adopted from India), and take a slight bow. They do this to show respect. In Thai culture, you are not so much just saying hello and getting to the point of the conversation. You wai and acknowledge the fact that you are speaking to a human being, and take a couple seconds to really take that in. It follows with the Buddhist way of doing things (read my other post: Meditation).
Respect plays a huge part in Buddhist (and therefore Thai) philosophy and society. After we buy something, or a tuk tuk driver takes us to our destination, I clasp my hands and bow in respect. I thank him/her by doing that.
Speaking of respect, almost all Thai citizens hold their King in very high esteem. He is Divine. It is a criminal offense to disrepect or criticize Thai royalty. Most currency in Thailand has the face of a Thai king on it. Even if a coin is rolling away, you do not want to be seen putting your foot on the King’s face.
We have seen the respect paid to the king. One perhaps minor example was at the movie theater before the movie began (read Jasper’s post: A Trip to the Mall). I have heard that even sometimes in public, the national anthem is played, and all people who can hear it must stop what they are doing to listen and be thoughtful and respectful to the King.
At our airbnb, we walk around the property, doing schoolwork and doing what we do. We walk around barefoot. By the end of the day the soles of our feet are coated with dust and dirt, so we clean them every night before bed. In Thai culture the feet are considered dirty (our’s certainly are every day), and the head sacred. You are expected to apologize immediately if you touch someone’s head.
Each culture is unique, each greeting different. The expectations and requirements for the place we live change by the month. In Dubai, we were still greeting people with Jambo (Swahili for hello). Here in Thailand, I am getting used to greeting and thanking people with a wai.
Below: A Picture of the King