Sa wat dee. Sabai dee. Chum reap suor. Greetings! We have just said hello to you in Thai, Lao and Cambodian. You are probably more familiar to wave at somebody when greeting them. Sure, it holds true in Southeast Asia as well, mainly because that concept has been borrowed from the West. But wouldn’t it be nice to properly greet a local the local way? You sure will win some admirers and will definitely impress a few here and there.
The proper way to greet someone is by doing the wai (as is called in Thailand and Laos) or the sampeah (as it is called in Cambodia). And the roots of the gesture traces back to ancient India. And you know why it was done back then? So to show the other person that he/she is not carrying any weapons.
Do you need an explanation of the hand gesture? It is simple, really. The hands are held together, just like how one does when in prayer. After that, all you have to do is say your greetings and bow your head.
And when to do this? Obviously when you are greeting somebody. But it is not limited to saying hello. You can show your apologies or gratitude by doing the same thing.
There are some guidelines as to when to perform the gesture. You definitely will have to do this when you are in the presence of important, respected and highly educated people, such as professors, politicians or royalty. It is accepted that the gesture is unnecessary to anyone who you are paying for service, i.e. taxi drivers or waiters. A simple thank you will do. You should also take note that if someone offers you a gesture you should immediately return it (or at least acknowledge it) because failure to do so is considered rude. This can be tough if your hands are full of shopping bags or if you are carrying hot soup, but a slight head nod would do.
So, now you know how to say hi. That is a great first step in blending in with the people and culture. Want to put your knowledge to the test? And bask in the cultural and tropical holiday paradise that is Southeast Asia? See what’s in store for you with our multi-country tours. Don’t worry, this works in just about every Southeast Asian country.
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