Here in Thailand to greet someone you wai. Much like the cheek kisses received in South American countries you wai when you greet and when you depart. A wai is a bow or a prayer like motion to show respect and say Hello!
However, it is also a sign of value, a sign of admiration and it’s just what you do. There are three levels: high wai, middle wai, and low wai.
The High wai is reserved for those in the highest standing: a Monk, the King (or an image of the King,) and a Buddha symbol. The hands are placed in a prayer at the forehead and you bow down with a smile.
The Middle wai is for those in a higher standing than yourself: for elders, for educators, for your boss, your mother and the police officer that you may be paying off to not giving you a ticket. The hands are placed in a prayer at the nose level and again, you bow with a smile. Always a smile.
The Low wai is for those in a lower or equal standing: your peers, coworkers, friends and children younger than you. The hands should be placed at the chin and you bow with a smile!
One common thread throughout this country is the amount of smiling the people do. Thailand is literally called The Land Of Smiles—Thai people not only smile when they’re happy but, they smile when they’re nervous, confused or curious. I’ve found myself catching onto this ritual. The language barrier is so great that when I have no idea what someone is saying I just have to put on a big goofy grin and try to remain calm with the fact that I have no clue what is happening around me. I repeat the phrase that is so common here Mai pen rai. Translating to never mind! don’t worry! it’s okay! It is more than just a phrase, it’s a way of life in the Thai culture.
School starts tomorrow and I’m teaching Kindergarten, 4th-6th and 9th-11th grades. I’m terrified. I’m sterrified.
…Mai pen rai.