How to Greet People in Different Countries

Handshake

‘I thought they were going for the kiss but it was the hug and now I just drooled on their face then head-butted them in the nose. Please bury me now.’ If you have ever experienced getting the local greeting wrong, you are not alone. It can be a minefield.

As an Englishman, this problem is escalated by the fact that we English have no defined course of action when meeting others. Some people smile and wave, while others sprinkle a kiss on each cheek. Those closer to you might hug you, but then you wonder if it is the type of hug that embraces you or the type of hug in which you barely touch one another? Some countries include taps, pats, and temple touches in their greetings. In this awkward world of greeting and saying goodbye, many people suffer great confusion at what they should be doing.

On the receiving end of misplaced greetings, I once found myself hugging a friend who slobbered a kiss into my ear. I thanked him but told him it wasn’t necessary. It’s always that moment of hesitation, of indecision, that causes bashed heads and awkward embarrassment.

Here is my point of view on ‘safely’ greeting people as a British guy.

The UK

CrumpetWhen meeting someone for the first time, go for a simple handshake. It avoids scaring people as sometimes we Brits are overwhelmed by kisses from strangers. This rule is bypassed when attempting to look stylish or at fashionable events at which point you are fully entitled to go crazy and do whatever you want. Even the double kiss on each cheek.

If you are meeting a girl you know, a friendly hug or a kiss on each cheek is quite acceptable. Stylised handshakes occur between men although if it’s a man you haven’t seen for a while, manly hugs work well. If you don’t know the person particularly well, a simple greeting without physical contact is not uncommon. In certain circles, grunting and a nodding of the head is deemed the most appropriate acknowledgment of each other’s existence.

If someone asks you how you are, always pretend to be fine. It’s not acceptable to say otherwise because people don’t want to be burdened by your worries. If you tell them you’re not fine, they probably won’t ask again.

Manly ManNorth America

Greet in the same way as the UK, except be a little bit manlier when meeting with men.

When meeting girls, be a little bit more excited (they also love British accents).

South Korea

When meeting someone for the first time, wave, smile (they may go further and leak a giggle), and appear non-threatening. In absolutely no circumstances should you attempt to make physical contact (unless a soft a handshake) as this is not acceptable. Leaning back a little emphasises your non-physical position. Try to sound extremely excited and keep grinning even after it is no longer necessary. Don’t hold eye contact for too long, it makes people uncomfortable.

When meeting someone you know, men can shake hands but inter-gender contact generates large amounts of confusion. Do not be surprised if someone simply bows at you. The effects of replicating this bow are thus unknown.

France

French BreadWhen meeting a girl, offer two kisses, one on each cheek. With boys, shake their hand.

When boys meet boys that they know well, kisses may still happen although the safest bet seems to be something that mixes a blend of hand-shaking with high fives. Slap palms twice in place of where you would normally shake hands. Stay with the double kiss for girls.

Turkey

Turkish Skyline

Shake hands when meeting either guys or girls and don’t worry if you don’t share any language. Talk confidently as if you understand each other and hope someone nearby will translate. Try to discontinue extensive conversation when you have no common language. When meeting students as a teacher, hi five every student in the corridor that passes you otherwise they will follow you, asking who you are.

When meeting guys you know, take their hand and touch your left temples together, followed by touching your right temples. Occasionally it seems like you brush cheeks but the main point is facial contact. At times, a noise is made. Replicating this noise is somewhat difficult, as is finding out exactly how you should greet females you’ve met before.

Thailand

Thai BoatMeeting a guy for the first time, he will lock your hand in a vice-like grip and drag you into a store to experience one of his beautiful tailor made suits. He will not hesitate to remind you that you are his friend, his friend and that you only need to look not buy. When you agree to buy, he may finally let go of your hand. When meeting woman in the street, avoid their friendly greetings. You might find a little bit more that you expected.

Uganda

Get stared at, allow people to wonder what you are doing there, and then let children follow you for a few kilometres as you walk through grassland. When you say hello, they’ll laugh and nervously greet you. Despite all this, they are some of the kindest, friendliest people that you could hope to meet and all their actions are motivated my innocent interest.

In Other Cultures

The above may not be completely serious, but it loosely works for me. I heard that in Tibet they stick their tongues out at each other to show they have no evil thoughts, while the inuit rub their noses together.

I would love to see nose rubbing introduced globally. That would be a great new introduction to business meetings across the world.

2 Comments

  • Reply April 26, 2013

    Matylda

    Ha, good guide! Greetings in France or even more complicated though, because the number of kisses can be different in different regions (it’s either 2,3 or 4). The procedure is also different with children – they just kiss you on the cheek once while you do nothing, probably shouldn’t try to kiss them back as well, who knows what people would think. It always annoyed me when I walked into a room full of people, and even if they were mostly strangers, I had to go round kissing everyone. Apparently one of my friend’s parents don’t like me, because I forgot to kiss them hello once. Not sure if it’s a valid reason, but well. Moving to the UK was like giving a holiday to my cheeks!

    • Reply April 27, 2013

      Jamie

      That is quite a dilemma! The UK does give you a break from that but at the same time, I prefer the French way because it is more friendly. How could you miss one person in a room of people? How rude ;)

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