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‘Hello’…and now what?!: Greetings Around the World

Meeting new people can be a challenge, particularly when cultural differences come into play. Here's a look at Greetings Around the World.

For someone who enjoys her personal space and doesn’t see the necessity in hugging good-bye unless you won’t see that person anytime in the near future, getting used to certain, new greetings while living abroad tends to cause slightly stressful and awkward situations. For me, a smile and a verbal greeting would suffice, however below are a few alternatives used throughout the world.  

The Handshake

Effective, though sometimes on the formal side, the handshake can be a fool proof greeting mechanism. Once initiated, it is easy to follow what the other person expects you to do.

However, you can’t completely lose your focus. In the US and the UK, at least, the handshake must be firm (loosey goosey doesn’t leave the best impressions) and you should generally make eye contact. For the germaphobes out there, or those of you who want to avoid the winter flu, I understand, this greeting can cause some internal issues.

The Bow

Though a gentle handshake is also acceptable in Japan, if you are confronted with a bow, it must be returned. Keeping in mind, it’s not a nose-touching-your-knee-flexibility contest, the bow presents multiple challenges.

The timing of the bow and your positioning, so as not to infringe on anyone’s personal space or make it seem as though they have some contagious disease, are all important factors that must be considered. Also, the amount of time you stay in this bow position can be tricky. Only after the bow is completed can you judge how well your performance was by the amused or frightened expression on the face of the person standing opposite you.

Not to mention, physical (or maybe even cerebral?) harm can ensue if you attempt this greeting at a moment’s notice in a crowded area. And don’t get too cocky once you think you’ve mastered the bow; other countries might also use this greeting, but hand positions and the depth of the bow vary.

The Kiss

Or, la bise, never fails to provide me with an entertaining story (seen in this way after the fact of course; in the moment, it can cause a varied amount of social pain). As soon as you are met with this greeting, there are a million decisions you have to make in a very short amount of time: Which cheek to start with? How many kisses do you think there will be? In short, it creates the opportunity for unsynchronized leaning in, leading to lingering, in an area very close to someone else’s face, with delayed reciprocations.

For this particular greeting, I will provide a few personal anecdotes:

  1. After traveling for a total of 24 hours, and getting a train out of the chaos that was Charles De Gaulle airport, I was confronted with la bise and pulled back with an alarmed expression on my face. Bursting of the personal bubble alert! Then, I remembered that this was a normal greeting in France. That wasn’t so bad; I just embraced the ignorant American stereotype and moved on.

  2. However, my second encounter with this greeting, while in France, involved a man with a prickly beard. When transitioning from the first kiss to the next my hair got caught in his beard, resultantly blinding myself. Thank goodness a third kiss wasn’t involved.

  3. If you find yourself as a newbie in a group with multiple nationalities just embrace the fact that you’ll have something to laugh about later. I was once simultaneously introduced to a Frenchman and a Mexican. The first was a double-cheek-kisser, the latter a single-cheek-kisser.

    Result: Me lingering for the second, which never happened, jerking my head back when I came to this realization and pretending to be distracted by something off to the right. The whole encounter oozed smoothness and social grace.

Et Cetera

Other Greetings Might Include:

  • The Nod and Smile (China)
  • The Prayer Pose and Bow (Thailand)
  • The Sticking Out Your Tongue (Tibet)
  • The Kunik: The Nose, Upper Lip, and Breathing Combo (Greenland)  

To top it off, greetings are subject to change as you progressively get to know people better. Hello world! (Initiate one of the above in hopes of getting it right, or maybe just create a combination of a few of them to be on the safe side.)

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