Why the Wai beats the handshake every time in the COVID era

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

The two now brightly beaming red bars tell me all I don’t want to know. After the best part of three years avoiding COVID, I have been steamrollered by it. Somewhere during my last trip of the year – to the Dubai Duty Free Golf World Cup and the MEADFA Conference in Bahrain – I’ve caught this damned virus and it’s every bit as nasty as I had feared.

So my Interim Bangkok Bureau – an apartment kindly loaned to me by two very good friends – resembles a pharmacy far more than a media station. I have enough panadol, throat sprays, lozenges, electrolyte drinks and other treatments to dose up an army but even then I needed a visit from my friends’ amazing doctor yesterday to feel even vaguely human.

It may be true that you can write much more insightfully about something if you have experienced it but for once I would prefer to tell the tale from a position of ignorance.

My throat feels like I have been dining on sandpaper and as a result I have a voice that makes Lee Marvin’s almost death rattle version of Wand’rin Star sound like it’s being sung by a boy soprano.

{Click on the YouTube icon to hear boy soprano Lee Marvin sing Wand’rin Star – fast forward to 1.13}

Being born under my own wand’rin star amid a global pandemic was always going to catch up with me, I suppose. Attending TFWA World Exhibition, The Trinity Forum and the two Middle East events within two months exposes you to multiple chances of catching COVID and my number eventually came up. How to avoid in the future as I certainly do not fancy a repeat? Skip such events? Not possible. Refuse handshakes, kisses and hugs? Difficult given what natural, often spontaneous expressions of human warmth they are.

Google ‘How to greet people without catching COVID?’ and plenty of sensible and sometimes innovative alternatives to hand. Or more correctly, not to hand.

A Texas dentist called Dr Jay Oza came up with nine alternatives to the handshake (mind you, my hands always shake when I visit the dentist), the best of which I list below.

  • Place your hand over your heart (which I also do while at the dentist)
  • Namaste: A traditional salutation in India and Nepal and familiar to any yoga devotee. Simply press your palms together in front of your chest while bowing slightly.
  • Shaka: Make a fist, then extend your pinkie finger and thumb.
  • Foot shaking: Now we’re talking. Simply stand on one foot and tap your raised foot towards the person you are getting (hopefully they do the same or you may kick them in the shin)

To that list you could add the Wai – the standard and lovely greeting here in Thailand. Similar to Namaste but with just a simple bow of the head with your hands pressed together in front of you.

The Thai wai: A beautifully gracious gesture with, crucially, no physical contact {Image: Silatip, Shutterstock official Moodie Davitt account} 

Maybe we could add a travel retail-exclusive version? Make the sign of a T using your two index fingers and then crook your left index finger into an R. I cannot see it catching on alas. And anyway, I am feeling crook enough as it is.

There’s a serious point here. At some point over the past few days, I likely caught COVID via one of the greeting forms outlined earlier. A well-meant shaking of hands, kiss on the cheek or hug. But shouldn’t we avoid that stuff for now? I certainly intend to but rather than my actions being mistaken for rudeness I shall compensate with an alternative.

The MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) sector is a vital part of the tourism industry. We have thankfully moved beyond the point where such MICE also require proof of their rodent RAT (rapid antigen tests) counterparts. I wonder though how many people are being infected at each of our industry events (including, I emphasise, our own)?

As a responsible sector committed to underlining the value and safety of international travel, why don’t we say a firm no to handshakes and a graceful yes to the Wai? Make it part of every event’s suggest protocol? Hands up beats hands down every time for me.

{Image: Treety, Shutterstock official Moodie Davitt account}


  • Martin, so sorry to hear you managed to catch it. You have battled back against worse health challenges so look forward to hearing of your quick recovery and back to traveling and enjoying the Holidays. Actually impressive that you went this long without it.

    • Greetings Michael, Yes I had a charmed run! Hopefully I can avoid a repeat. Tested clear after 9 days so I will get home for Xmas!! Hope you are well.

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