Does a Wai say it all?
Bangkok Post's senior business reporter, Boonsong Kositchotehana, in a report today, raises the possibility that the famous Thai Wai is now part of the standard greeting on most airlines serving the 10-member Asean region.
Passengers stepping on to Indonesian or Malaysian planes can no longer assume that a welcoming Wai reflects the cabin attendant's Thai origins, or the carrier's link with Thai companies.
No.2 (Inside)Airlines including the long-haul budget carrier AirAsia X, Malaysia's AirAsia, AirAsia Indonesia and, most recently, Garuda Indonesia have all embraced Thailand's iconic greeting of respect or simply hello , thank you and goodbye as a standard greeting for passengers.
The Wai's globalisation started, earlier this year, with the Malaysia-base AirAsia X and AirAsia, before the Indonesian flag carrier introduced the gesture, last June.
The management of these airlines may have been impressed by how the cabin crew of Thai Airways International (THAI) have used the custom for nearly 50 years as a personal touch.
But these airlines believe they are not copying Thai greetings. In their view, Thais cannot claim an exclusive right to the gesture, which they see as a regional tradition.
Scholars believe the Wai came to Thailand via India's Hindu culture. The Wai closely resembles the Indian namaste , the Cambodian sampeah and the Lao kub .
In Indonesia, Wai-like gestures are in use in various parts of the country, including Java, where Hinduism and Buddhism have been or still are practised.
Historically, in Malaysia and Brunei the gesture was used to convey thanks, or salutations to a patron, or higher personage, with the level of the hands raised in accordance with the rank or caste of the individual to whom it was addressed.
Nevertheless, in none of these countries has the Wai become a national symbol or been deeply ingrained in tradition as it has been in Thailand.