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I remember being on the plane on my very first trip to Thailand. The airline unfortunately ‘messed up’ my connecting flight. To correct for the problem they put me on a Thai Airways flight at no extra charge – for those who don’t know, Thai Airways is an expensive classy airline to fly on.
Let me back track my story a bit first. Before my trip I started studying a little Thai, learning all the basics so I can be a more informed tourist. At the time my Thai vocabulary consisted of a few phrases and a hundred or so words, such as ‘sawatdee krap’ meant ‘hello’, etc.
Anyway I’m on the Thai Airways flight and I see in front of me a magazine titled ‘Sawasdee’. Did ‘sawasdee’ have anything to do with ‘sawatdee’? What’s up with that ‘s’? A typo, maybe?
Many many months later, when I started learning how to read Thai, it became clear to me that it was a transliteration mistake. In the Thai spelling it is ‘sawasdee’ สวัสดี, but whenever an ‘s’ ส is at the end of a syllable, it makes a ‘t’ sound. The person who transliterated the word probably didn’t realize this rule doesn’t hold true in English (or Englit, as they say).
So as a beginner you’ve probably learned that ‘sawatdee’ meant hello ages ago. But it’s not that simple. Sawatdee is fairly polite, and can come off weird if you say it to your close friends or relatives. But never fear! I’m here to give you more options . . . or to overcomplicate it for you – depending on your fluency level . . .
The simplest way to say hello is . . . wait for it . . . ‘hello’! Yes, Thai stole the word directly from English, and is most commonly used when answering the phone. It is spelled ฮัลโล, but it isn’t pronounced as it is spelled. The correct pronunciation is haa1-low5. Just listen to Thais answer the phone to get the correct pronunciation.
To change the politeness/formalness of ‘sawatdee’, you simply add or remove syllables. I’ve listed each way by order of politeness, with 1 being the most polite and 6 the least polite. Note that the last two are rarely used, given their informality and the possibility of confusing the meaning with the word for ‘good’. Also, women should replace the word ‘krap4’ for ‘ka3’.
1 – สวัสดีครับ sawatdee krap
2 – สวัสดี sawatdee
3 – หวัสดีครับ watdee krap (notice the ห in front of the word)
4 – หวัสดี watdee
5 – ดีครับ dee krap
6 – ดี dee
Even this however is a bit of a simplification to all the possible ways you can say Hello in Thai. There are plenty more!