By Gaspar Ruiz-Canela
Bangkok, Apr 3 (efe-epa).- A slight bow or clasping hands as in prayer are common ways of greeting each other in some Asian countries such as Thailand and Japan, and are also social distancing recommendations by the World Health Organization to mitigate COVID-19.
“People greet each other saying ‘sawatdika’ (‘hello’) and ‘sabai di mai?’ (‘How are you?’), But without physical contact,” Ai, a 34-year-old Thai woman, told EFE at a park in Bangkok.
To greet, the Thai woman also does a “wai,” which consists on putting her hands together as in the prayer position and bowing her head at the same time.
Frequent hand washing and social distance, which includes avoiding shaking hands, hugging or kissing, are the main recommendations to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has already infected more than 1 million people and killed about 50,000 worldwide.
Sylvie Briand, the director of the WHO epidemic and pandemic disease department, shared on Twitter a photo with several safe greetings such as bumping feet or elbows and the Thai “wai.”
Also United States President Donald Trump, the United Kingdom’s Prince Charles and Indian President Narendra Modi, have used the Asian “Namaste” greeting during the pandemic, clasping their hands similar to the “wai,” to avoid physical contact.
As the late Thai anthropologist Anuman Rajadhon wrote in a manual on Thai etiquette, one of the reasons Thais do the “wai” is because it is more “hygienic” than shaking hands.
The height of the hands shows the level of respect and social status of the person being greeted: on the chest for people of similar social status, on the nose before elderly or higher-status people, and on the forehead before monks or statues of the Buddha.
Thus, the origin of this Thai greeting is related to the traditional gesture of respect and worship of Buddhism and Hinduism originating in India.
The “Namaste” greeting, which is performed with the elbows further from the body than in the case of the “wai” is still used daily in India, although shaking hands is common in the business world and among young people.
“Traditionally, it is not common to touch the other person in the greeting, unless it is from your family,” Karthi Keyan, an Indian engineer from the southern Tamil Nandu state, told.
“But as elsewhere, things are changing. Young people in Tamil Nandu now are not very different from other countries. It is very common to shake hands and hug each other close friends,” Keyan added.
In Myanmar, there is also a local version of the Indian “namaste,” although shaking hands has also gained traction in this Buddhist-majority country.
“In the past, they used to make a gesture like the ‘wai,’ but now we shake hands and, among close friends, we even hug,” said Dee Dee, a Burmese from the north of her country who works as a babysitter in Bangkok.
At the eastern end, the Japanese and Koreans are known for keeping their distance in social treatment and greet each other by simply bowing: the more pronounced it is, the greater the degree of respect.
In China and Taiwan, they are more informal and often greet each other with a friendly wave of the hand or, with close people or family, they may even omit any courtesy and start a conversation directly.
However, shaking hands is a practice that is widespread in Asia and in the Philippines, some even practice the “kiss” inherited from the Spanish colonial era. EFE-EPA