Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Thai etiquette #1 (wai greeting)

When I was traveling through Tibet, the natives greeted strangers by sticking out their tongue. At first I thought it was a come-on, but my guide explained that Tibetans devils don’t have tongues, hence I stuck out my tongue before entering any encampment. If you didn’t respect this custom, then the villagers would sic their dogs on you and Tibetan curs are fierce ass-biters.

Western greeting traditions include Americans shaking hands, the French kissing cheeks and the English knocking you out with a head butt.

Thais rarely shake hands and if they do it’s a limp-wrist clasp like they fear you’ll snatch away their arm. Instead they prefer the traditional wai, where joined palms are held to the chest and the head is lowered in deference.

The higher the status of the person you are greeting, the higher you hold your hands and the deeper your bow. A revered monk blessing your house deserves the class A treatment. Bringing your hands to the bridge of your nose. The over-the-head wai with floor prostration is reserved for the king.

I had a high-born friend from Yala. Apihka was an elderly woman running a school. Her family was connected to the royals and when we traveled her lessers would instantly drop to the ground. On more than one occasion she said, “I like being with you, because it’s hard to talk to people like this.”

I wai authority figures,doctors, lawyers, and my wife’s father.

Never a cop looking for tea money, unless he’s angry. A wai is a perfect gesture for eating crow.

You do not have to wai beggars or girls in short time bars. Kids don’t receive a wai either. People will think you an idiot if you do or rather more an idiot than they think most farangs are just stupid.

A simple nod or a tip will suffice for most people not your better, but exercising good manners can earn good results. I was staying on TiomanIsland during the visit of a Malay sultan. After finishing his address to the locals, his highness made his way back to his yacht. The backpackers gawked at his passing. I wai-ed him and he came over to me and asked where I was from.

“New York.”

“New York.” he smiled and held my arm. “I went to Studio 54.”

“I worked at Studio.” I was doorman during its last month.

“Really. How would you like to have tea on my boat?”

“Love to.” The tea was sweet and the view from the deck sublime.

The reward for obeying etiquette.

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