Around the world in 7 greetings
We went around the world with 7 leading travel bloggers from the four corners of the earth to find out all about how people greet each other in different cultures.
Greetings differ radically from culture to culture, many times shaped by religious or superstitious believes, by different sensitivities to touch and intimacy and the roles males and females play in society. While learning how people greet each other during our adventures can be fun, it can also cause some of our most embarrassing moments or even disrespect basic etiquette and tabus. We’ve all done that one way or another. Here’s what our travel bloggers have to say!.
CANADA VS MONGOLIA
In our home country of Canada, greetings are pretty straightforward: you shake hands when you first meet someone and give a hug or a kiss on the cheek to good friends and family members. We spent 30 days travelling in Mongolia. This gave us time to learn about the greetings there, which are much different from the ones here in Canada!
In Mongolia, when two people greet one another during a ceremony, festival or other special occasion, they will offer their snuff bottles in the upturned palm of the right hand, with the lid partially opened. Snuff is a scented, smokeless tobacco made from ground up tobacco leaves. The person receiving the snuff bottle will take out a pinch of snuff by using the small spoon which is attached to the lid. They then place the pinch of tobacco on the back of their hand before “snuffing” it up their nose. Even if you don’t want to sniff any snuff that day, it’s respectful to hold the bottle close to your nose, to smell the fragrance before passing it back. Snuff bottles are always given and received with the right hand.
Snorting perfumed tobacco up our nose when meeting someone was something that Nick and I weren’t used to doing. It burned the insides of our nasal cavity and we both coughed and sneezed after sniffing it. I’m sure the Mongolians thought we were total amateurs, but we still participated in that aspect of the Mongolian culture…a couple of times. Once we learned that we didn’t actually have to inhale the tobacco and it was completely fine to just smell the top of the bottle, we opted for that every time!
About the authors: Nick & Dariece are a nomadic couple who encourage a sustainable, exciting lifestyle through travel, culture and cuisine. They’re always in search of unique cultural experiences, beautiful beaches and off-the-beaten-path adventures. They call themselves Goats On The Road and their website for independent and off the beaten path travel encourages others to pack their bags and leave the ordinary behind. Visit Goats On The Road and get inspiring tips for the adventurous backpacker!Follow their journey on Twitter, Facebook and Google +
PORTUGAL, INDIA AND THE MIDDLE EAST:
kISSING, NAMASTE & RUBBING NOSES
My husband Ashray is from India and I am from Portugal. We used to live in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. You can imagine that by now we’ve learnt how to greet people in different ways depending on how close they are to us and, of course, where in the word we are in a given moment.
In Portugal, we give 2 kisses in the face whenever we meet someone new, boy or girl. In India, there isn’t usually body contact: you put your hands together close to your chest and say “namaste”. It’s a more hygienic way to greet someone you just met and, if you’re already closer, you can always give your friends a light hug. Kisses are usually a no go. When my family and friends came over to India for our wedding these kind of cultural differences ended up sponsoring some funny moments, where lips about to kiss faces were intercepted by hand shakes or simple “namastes”.
But going back to Dubai, things get even more interesting, as this is a place with such an incredible cultural mix, where traditions and even religions influence the way people greet. For me, as a woman, I’d generally stick to a simple “hello” for local men and ladies or, if dealing with a person from abroad, and the vibes allow, I could eventually throw in a hand shake. But it’s not that local people avoid body contact at all costs, oh no! Emirati men, in fact, greet each other by rubbing their noses! The first time I saw two men doing this, before the greeting was done, I was under the impression that they were going to kiss each other on the lips, as they do end up pretty close to that. Apparently, this is a traditional Bedoiun greeting and rubbing noses is a sign of deep respect. I learnt some women do it as well, but only in the privacy of their homes and that is why I never actually saw it happening myself.
Another misperceived situation I observed in Dubai was seeing local men and particularly Indian emigrants (male) holding hands. I remember thinking on my very first day in the Emirates: oh boy, for an islamic country, gays do seem to be very open around here. Unfortunately, gays can’t be open at all, and I have come to understand in the meantime that 2 men holding hands is nothing but a sign of friendship. This is actually very common in India and, for some reason, it happens particularly amongst people from humbler backgrounds – not as a greeting as such, but as a sign of friendship.
As we go around the world, we often encounter situations when we’re not sure how the local greeting protocol goes. When in doubt, just smile – that is the most international greeting of them all!
About the author: Zara is a Portuguese girl who quit her job in Dubai 2 years ago to travel around the world with her now husband Ashray, from India. They’re the team behind Backpack ME, a travel site that aims to share tips and ideas with people all over the place, inspiring them to go travel, no matter where they come from!
A&Z are East meets West and Backpack ME is all about a multicultural perspective on travel: http://bkpk.me/about-a-z/
Say HI on Twitter @piggybackrideAZ and join them on Facebook too.
POLAND VS CHINA
Greetings in Poland
Polish people are quite emotional. At the same time, they are concerned with how people perceive them. It is not uncommon to see close friends greet each other with three consecutive kisses on alternate cheeks (it often starts with left cheek). Kiss on the cheek is ok between guys and girls, not guys. Guys do handshake and raise their hand. Others stroll arm-in-arm, while Polish gentlemen offer women their arms with ease. Universal handshakes usually begin a meeting and during negotiations in Poland a handshake means that a talk is over rather than “it’s a deal.” Yet, a foreign man should wait for a woman to extend her hand before he follows suit. If he wishes to show additional respect he may make a short bow.
When Poles see each other, they often shout
„Cześć!” meaning „Hi!“ and the second question they ask is „Jak się masz?” meaning „How are you?“. That is a polite way of starting a conversation and greeting each other.
Greetings in China
Unlike Polish people, Chinese do not accept hugs or kisses as a form of greeting. Bowing is to show a sign of respect. By lowering your head below the person you are bowing to, you are showing that they are of higher standing than you are. Traditionally, people would greet each other by putting together the palm of their left hand with the fist of their right hand and say hello. This is also a thing of the past, but some Chinese would still do it on special occasions to bring back the atmosphere. Friends do handshake and say
Nihao whereas strangers say: ninhao, more respectfully.
In China, bowing means you are putting the other person on top of yourself, and they are greater than you. If you don’t bow in front of a high standing or an elder, that is extremely disrespectful. At first, I found bowing so odd and uncomfortable, but I quickly got used to it as everyone around did the same. Once I got back home and bowed in front of my former high school teacher and she burst out laughing (yes, that was pretty embarassing).
China is pretty much all about food. The first thing people ask you when see you in the street, instead of saying “Hi”, is: “Did you have your lunch?”: Nǐ chī zhōng cān le ma? You must admit it’s a strange question to hear when greeting someone!
I grew up in the UK and coming from a small town on the south coast where people generally come to retire I guess I was quite sheltered from the rest of England. It wasn’t until I moved to London that I discovered the full meaning of how us Brits really greet each other.
Only being used to people shaking hands formally as a sign of respect, I was suddenly subjected to hugging and kissing and at first it all felt quite alien. Brits get a bad rep for being too uptight and unwelcoming but if you watch people greet each other in the capital you’ll be surprised at how warm and ‘touchy feely’ we can actually be, and this has spread to other parts of England. Obviously it depends on your race and religion but kissing each other on the cheek (just once) or a quick hug is now the norm (and yes, even men hug although they keep their body distance a little more and it’s more like a ‘rapper’ hug than a bear squeeze) but it’s a sign of respect for the other.
So now I hug and I kiss on the cheek but sometimes it can be easy to forget and during my trips abroad, I have had to adapt each greeting depending on the country and the situation. The biggest lesson that I have learnt, is not to presume that each nation is okay with body contact.
Upon a trip to Jordan I resorted to the handshake, thinking that it is business-like and a sign of respect without realising that in Islamic culture, social interactions between non-related members of the opposite sex don’t really happen and that my gesture of a handshake isn’t really acceptable within their society. Women don’t even sit next to men in certain restaurants or on public transport and I was trying to touch their hand. Men in Jordan do greet each other with a warm handshake and a series of kisses but for me as a western woman, it was a completely different story. Just because us Brits are getting more continental doesn’t mean that other countries are so when you encounter a Brit and they are looking a little too stern, go and give them a hug and see what happens!
About the author: Lisa Imogen Eldridge is a freelance travel writer and a solo traveller with 76 countries under her belt. She aims to make solo travel easier and ethical with her website Girl about the Globe www.girlabouttheglobe.com
ARGENTINA VS UK
In Argentina, everyone greets each other with two kisses on the cheek: right cheek to right cheek, then left to left. This is true of women and women meeting, women and men meeting and even men and men meeting. I personally had no problem with this, but some men may find it strange or uncomfortable to be greeted by another man with a kiss on the cheek.
In the UK, where I’m from, some people may greet each other by cheek-kissing, though only when between women or a woman and a man. Since this custom is not particularly well established in the UK yet (hand-shaking for everyone is still more common and definitely what you’d notice among older people), and has been imported as a trendy ‘European’ (as though the UK isn’t part of Europe?!) thing to do by younger people, it is still sometimes uncertain whether one or two cheek kisses are sufficient, which can lead to awkward situations of mistiming and misdirected kisses!
However, in Argentina, the custom is very well established, and refusing the cheek kisses could be seen as rude or insensitive. Accepting and giving them freely, on the other hand, will be a sign of warmth and kindness, something I found to be pervasive throughout Argentine culture.
About the author: : Sam is a sometimes-EFL teacher, wannabe-minimalist, language geek who is trying to make it as a digital nomad with his partner, Zab. You can follow them on their blog Indefinite Adventure where they chronicle their journey, write about the places they visit, the food they eat (preferably vegan, organic and locally produced) and the people they meet. They are also on Facebook,Twitter and Foursquare.
INDONESIA VS WESTERN WORLD
Indonesians are amazingly friendly. Been living in Indonesia for my whole life, I found that most Indonesian are kind people, willing to help visitors and usually have a high interest in chating with you, even though you’re a stranger to them as well as they are to you. You can just simply chat with everyone you meet on the street! That way, travelling has never been boring for me.
Here, we greet each other with a simple Halo! (hello, in English) and Apa kabar? (how are you?). However, unlike Westerners, Indonesians don’t show contact between genders in public. Even a simple hugging and kissing between husband and wife in public would be considered uncommon and somehow… embarrassing. We just simply do a handshake for a formal meeting. Or, if you want to be a little bit casual, do a waving instead. Well, of course you can still hug your close friends and families, if they are of the same gender. It’s quite a normal thing for us.
And since Indonesia is home for a huge Muslim population, you might want to be careful when offering a handshake to a Muslim man (if you are a woman) since some of them (yes, the rule doesn’t apply to all Muslim men) won’t accept that – it’s somehow forbidden for them to touch women even it’s just a handshake. I guess it’s not polite for them. It happened to me several times and things got very awkward at that time. What do I do? I do a “Namaste” kind of gesture instead when this thing happen to me. You also don’t want to touch Muslim men after they did their cleanse ritual before praying, since they have to re-clean themselves again afterwards. And vice versa. If you’re a man, you might deal with the same issue with Muslim women here – which is quite normal.
Seems like a lot of rules? Don’t worry! Indonesian loves to greet new people, and it is usually expressed in their smiles. So… halo from Indonesia!
About the author:
Sharon Loh is an undergraduate student in Bandung, Indonesia. She has been slowly travelling and exploring more kind of foods since October 2012. And her obsession with travel and food grows even stronger ever since. Her blog, Sharon Travelogue, tells them all.
Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook!
Hugs, handshakes, and high fives. Those are all acceptable ways to greet someone in my hometown in upstate New York (okay, maybe not so much the last one). But in Thailand, which I consider my second home, there’s a whole different way of saying hello.
In Thailand, the standard greeting is the wai. To wai, press your palms together like you’re reenacting Madonna’s Like a Prayer video and lean forward slightly in a slight bow. The height of the hands and the depth of the bow depends on your own age, gender, societal standing as well as how much respect you want to show the person receiving your wai – it can get complicated. In general, it’s best to wait to see if a wai is offered (see what I did there?) before proffering up one yourself, at least until you get used to the practice.
About the author:
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