Not getting your handshake, the wai or bow correct, spells trouble ahead. When greeting someone, it could be a wai if you are Thai, a bow if you are Japanese, la bise (cheek kiss) to good friends if you are French, a firm handshake if you are American.
If you are Thai meeting a farang (from America, Australia or Europe), you should expect to use a handshake as you introduce yourself. Many Thais struggle with the handshake and often get a meeting off to a really bad start because of a too weak and even wet handshake.
Worst case scenario is that you risk losing everything even before you are seated. If your handshake is too weak, the farang executive will jump to conclusion and see it as a sign of weakness, lack of confidence and interest, lack of masculinity. A handshake must be firm, not weak and not strong. The word is: firm. So please, you must firm it up, and I recommend that you practice with a friend before the all important interview or meeting. Even better, find a foreigner who is willing to let you do a couple of handshakes to get it right.
If your meeting is with a Chinese or Korean businessman, I am told that a soft or weak handshake is actually preferred. People shaking hands will often hold on to each other’s hands for a while or even grasp the right arm with the left. It is considered rude or disrespectful to have your free hand in your pocket while shaking hands. It is the senior person who will initiate a handshake, so if you are there for an interview, wait and see what your host will do.
One of the most well known etiquette’s in Japan is not a handshake but a bow. It’s considered so important in Japan that many companies even provide training to their employees in how to execute bows correctly. When you meet a Japanese senior businessman, you should wait to see what he does. Most Japanese working overseas have taken to a handshake. But wait and see.
The Thai “wai” remains to this day an extremely important part of social behavior among Thais. As a foreigner, you may be unaccustomed to the wai and it will take more than this story to explain the intricacies of this beautiful greeting. Suffice to say here, a kind nod or a smile would go a long way to avoid any embarrassment if you are not comfortable in returning a wai (in situations deemed appropriate).