Thai Cultural Class Reflection 1

All new international teachers to Thailand must take 20 hours of class work to obtain a Thai Teaching certificate. Today was my first class and our assignment is to reflect on what we learned…..so here I go.

What did I learn today?

We had a great discussion about the Wai. A common greeting in Thailand much like a handshake. The discussion around when to Wai and who to Wai was an interesting one. There are two ways to Wai back at someone. You can just put your hands together and not bow your head or you bow your head.

If a student or someone younger then you Wais you, you do not bow your head while Wai-ing back. You simple just put your hands together and Wai.

You would bow your head to someone older than you, someone of higher social status, or someone who you respect.

Who or what determines when to wai?

-Age
-Social status
-Profession (Teacher, Doctor)
-Buddhist monk
-Gratitude

Learning to Wai is much like learning when do you shake someones hand, when do you just say “hi”, and when is it appropriate to just wave.

The Thai phrase “Mai-pen-rai” translates as “It doesn’t matter” but really it does…but only sometimes…sometimes it doesn’tm and somethings it means No. But other times it means Yes. Confused? Yes….we are too

I think all cultures have phrases like this. In Saudi Arabia it was “Inshallah” which meant ‘have pateints” but really it meant much more than that. In America…what is the phrase that we use? We say “Yeah” a lot, we shake our head in agreement even though we might not agree.

Learning globally meaning learning cultures.

7 Comments

  1. Are you saying teachers are on the list of professions that deserve respect?
    Imagine that.

    • Yes, what I found interesting is that teachers rank higher then monks when it comes to who you have to Wai and how you would Wai them.

      The head is considered the most sacred part of the body to in the Thai culture. Which is why you Wai while bowing (or showing the top of your head) to mean great respect. You, as the teacher, would only Wai back to your students and do not need to bow your head.

      There are other similar traditions such as you should never stand while an elder sites. Your head should always be lower then theirs. So if your grandparents are sitting you would be kneeling on the floor to be below them.

      The respect for each other, and for this hierarchy is one I find very interesting.

  2. Hi Jeff,

    Inshallah in Arabic is “if God wills it”

    I believe the equivalent response in the US is “whatever.”

    Make sure you don’t confuse sa-wah-de-ka and sa-wah-de-krap.

    ARAMCO gave employees a week’s worth of cultural training prior to our taking jobs in Saudi. It was time and (company) money well spent. And it was held in the Houstonian in Houston. Not a bad spot.

    If you’d like some great mystery stories set in Bangkok, try the series by John Burdett that starts with Bangkok 8.

    Enjoy your classes,

    Doug

    • “Whatever” that was the word I was looking for. I couldn’t think about it yesterday when I was writing my reflection for the class. :)

      What I love is how we’ve picked up these words and added them to our own vocabulary (my wife and me). We use Inshallah all the time, the best part is because international teachers move and travel so much. You can say it in a crowd of teachers and at least one of them will smile at ya…cause they know exactly what it means. Of course the Ozzie phrase “No Worries” is another on of my favorites.

  3. I lived next to a Thai woman for a couple of years and the smells coming out of her ktichen about did me in. My favourite food on the planet is Thai. The combination of coriander leaves, lime, chilli and coconut. Oh! My mouth is watering!

    I never did learn any traditions or greetings from her, though. The only one I know is when I arrive at one of the posher Thai restaurants, I am greeted by a beautiful woman (aren’t they all beautiful? Like porcelain dolls!) who places her hands like those in your picture, bows her head and says “Sawasdee” which I gather means “welcome”. I would love to respond appropriately, but have no idea how.

    I shall wait for you to share your lesson on that point and then try it out.

    • I know this one now!

      The Wai can be used, and is most often used, as a greeting. You as the person being greeted do not need to Wai back but can smiley smile greet them with a “Sawasdee” and go on your way. Now, if you wanted to Wai them you could, but you would not bow your head. You would simply put your hands together, smile, and say “Sawasdee”.

      What a great reflection this has been. I’m so glad I posted it here and not just in a notebook. :)

  4. Is this the official government training for the teachers’ license? A lot of long termers were being very rude about both the idea and its implementation, but it sounds like you are finding it useful and interesting

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