In Thailand, you can say “hello” in more ways than you can imagine. Of course, performing a “Wai” and saying “Sawasdee” might be the first thing that crosses your mind. But do the Thai really say “hi” like that?
Traditionally, Thai people say “Sawasdee” (สวัสดี) to greet each other. They say this as they perform a salutation gesture called “Wai.” However, in reality, only a handful of people say “Sawasdee.” The locals opt for an abbreviated and friendly version of the term that reads “Wasdee” (หวัดดี).
Nevertheless, Thai greeting culture is not that simple. You might want to know a trick or two to handle local greetings more elegantly.
So, read on to find out what the practical greeting in Thailand sounds like?
What Is the Most Common Greeting Term in Thailand?
As mentioned, the traditional Thai greeting term is “Sawasdee” (สวัสดี).
This term consists of 2 words: “Sawas,” and “Dee.” And both words have the same meaning — “good or great.”
So when Thai people say “Sawasdee,” it’s much more than just a greeting. It is their way of wishing a person a great day.
However, most Thais don’t really say “Sawasdee” anymore. Why? Because as time passed, they started to consider the term too formal and unintimate. The locals only use the original “Sawasdee” for religious ceremonies, huge events, and other official settings.
So, they abbreviate “Sawasdee” to only “Wasdee” (หวัดดี).
Despite its shorter pronunciation, “Wasdee” still conveys the full message of the original term. Since the two words that make up “Sawasdee” have the same meaning, cutting one short won’t make much difference. And besides, the abbreviated version gives a more friendly and intimate vibe.
Most locals see “Wasdee” as a slang-ish derivation of “Sawasdee.” But unlike other slang, you can use “Wasdee” even with the elders.
Respect is a big deal in Thailand. And it’s paramount that you show respect to anyone your senior. Using slang is widely considered disrespectful, and you should avoid them when talking to elders.
But for some reason, “Wasdee” seems to be an exception to this rule. The elder won’t mind if you use this shorter term instead of the full one. In a way, you can see this as a language evolution. But in other ways, you can see this as an example of the Thai’s laid-back attitude.
Nevertheless, “Wasdee” is still a slang term. And whenever you use it, you must abide by the Thai language’s “rule of politeness” (a particular branch of how you show respect through verbal communication in Thailand).
This might sound like a headache, but the solution is actually simple.
- If you greet a friend, you can plainly say “Wasdee.” There is no politeness required here.
- When saluting an elder, you must add an “ending word” to your “Wasdee.” Or else, your greeting will come out as rude.
- If you are a male (from birth or chosen), you say “Wasdee Krab”
- If you are a female (from birth or chosen), you say “Wasdee Ka”
Of course, this doesn’t mean you cannot say “Sawasdee” at all. All the Thai would appreciate a “Sawasdee” every once in a while — especially from a foreigner. So, don’t sweat it if you find the local greeting too confusing. The Thais will understand you.
Does the Thai Language Have “Good Morning,” “Good Afternoon,” and “Good Evening?”
In Thailand, people usually greet with the time-independent “Sawasdee” or “Wasdee” (similar to hello). You rarely see anyone use time-dependent terms to greet their friends or family. But if you want to do it, you can.
- If you want to say “good morning,” you can use “Arun Sawas” (อรุณสวัสดิ์). “Arun” means dawn or morning. “Sawas,” as mentioned, means good or great. So basically, it is “Good morning.”
- For “good afternoon,” there is no equivalent word in Thai. So, you should go with “Sawasdee” or “Wasdee.”
- For “good evening,” you have “Sayan Sawas” (สายัณห์สวัสดิ์). Like “Arun Sawas,” “Sayan” means dusk or evening, and Sawas means good or great. Hence, “good evening.”
You can use these terms to express greetings at different times. However, keep in mind that these words are archaic. Nobody really uses them anymore. So, if you plan to use these words, be prepared to get weird looks.
However, you can intentionally use these archaic terms to get a laugh as soon as you greet your friends. Since nobody uses them anymore, people usually giggle when they hear such words. They might add, “When is this? 1600s? Hahaha.” And from there, you can enjoy a lively conversation.
Do Thai People Say, “How Are You?”
For English speakers, “how are you?” is a natural follow-up to a “Hello” or “Hi.” You use it because you genuinely want to know or only to appear friendly. However, the Thais don’t usually ask that.
Instead of “how are you,” Thai people opt for a “Where are you going” or “Where have you been.”
Now, for English speakers, these questions might sound too intrusive. But for the Thai, they are totally normal.
You can use “where are you going” when you meet an acquaintance by chance on the street or at a department store. For “where have you been,” use it when you meet someone in your house.
Your interlocutors’ responses can give you a glimpse of what they are up to.
For example, if they say work, shopping, or a restaurant, you can assume they are doing fine. But if they say a hospital or a bank, you can guess something is going on. So, you can add a follow-up question like “what happened?”
Now, here is how you pronounce each question.
- Where are you going: “Pai Nai” (ไปไหน).
- Where have you been: “Pai Nai Ma” (ไปไหนมา).
Of course, this doesn’t mean Thai people don’t say “how are you” at all. If you haven’t met the person for a long time, it’s still appropriate. “How are you” is pronounced, “Pen Ngai Mang” (เป็นไงมั่ง).
Greet Like the Local
At the end of the day, Thai greetings might be more flexible than you think.
As you can see, “Sawasdee” is the proper greeting, but the locals prefer the shorter and friendlier “Wasdee.” And who knows? This might change in the future. “Sawasdee” used to be the norm, but now it somewhat belongs in a museum.
So, do what the Thai do. Keep updating yourself on how to do a proper greeting. One day, the Thai might opt for the even shorter “Dee,” instead of “Wasdee.” Just adapt, and you will have a great time in this foreign land.
Like always, if you want to learn more about Thailand, stay with ThaiGuider. You might learn something you never knew about this unique country.