In many places, greeting someone involves a simple handshake or hug. However, to wish salutations in different cultures, this practice may not be appreciated. What is considered warm and polite in one culture might be rude and overly familiar in another. Greetings around the world may vary depending on cultural values, religion, superstition, and other aspects. You can find variations depending on one’s social status or relationship with the person being greeted. In other words, greeting someone might be more complex than you think!
If you enjoy traveling, it’s important to familiarize yourself with some of the social expectations of other cultures. This might save you some embarrassment while you’re in a new place! More importantly, however, it will assure others that you respect their culture and want to show them respect, too.
Here are a few ways to wish salutations in different cultures around the world.
When greeting someone in France, it is considered polite to combine a handshake and a kiss. This is so widely practiced both as a greeting and a goodbye that even French children do it!
To start, offer your hand in a handshake, then remain holding hands as you offer your right cheek. Kiss the air, then alternate cheeks. This is usually done twice, once for each cheek, but you will also see it done three times, each time switching to the other side.
Similar greetings are performed in Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Corsica. However, the greeting may vary slightly by region. Italians usually initiate the kisses on the right side rather than the left and kiss twice, while Corsicans kiss as much as five times.
In India, you usually greet someone by pressing your hands together in front of your chest and saying “Namaste”. You may also slightly dip your head or bow while doing so. Your thumbs should be pressed against your chest.
“Namaste” translates literally as “I bow to you”. It is generally used to indicate respect or as a recognition of the divinity of the other person. You will see it being used throughout other parts of Asia as well, especially Southeast Asia.
You may also find other forms of greetings in India. One greeting called the Prañama is used to indicate extreme respect for reverence. It is usually used for greeting an older person but may be used for spouses, teachers, or anyone else for whom one has deep reverence.
There are several types of Prañama, but the basic idea is to combine deep bowing or kneeling with touching the feet of the person to whom you are showing respect.
In Japan, the proper greeting usually involves a bow. To do this, you will keep a straight back and bend with your arms by your sides.
However, the Japanese etiquette involving greetings varies widely based on the social situation, status, age, and the relationship between the two people. For people first experiencing Japanese culture, these unspoken rules can seem overwhelming!
The Japanese usually know that foreigners aren’t familiar with this etiquette and are forgiving about lapses. If you’re unsure how to greet someone, you can defer to a deep nod or bow or your head. However, it’s always good form to familiarize yourself with the local expectations as much as possible.
In Malaysia, people often greet one another by reaching out to hold one another’s fingertips, then moving their hands toward their hearts. This shows the other person that their greeting is authentic — that is, it’s from the heart. This is known as the salam.
Western-style handshakes are becoming more common, but it is best not to initiate them as a foreigner. Instead, defer to the salam unless the other person offers a handshake. Many consider it impolite for men to initiate any kind of physical contact with a woman, so women should extend their hands first for a greeting.
If in doubt, you can defer to a polite bow. This expresses respect without initiating any physical contact.
In the Māori culture of New Zealand, people may greet one another with a gesture called the hongi. To do this, they press their noses together, sometimes touching foreheads as well. They may grasp hands at the same time or conclude the hongi with a Western-style handshake.
The hongi is meant to symbolize unity and the breath of life. When used in ceremonies with foreigners, it symbolizes the connection of the people of the land with newcomers. The greeting has its roots in Māori mythology, with the idea to share the breath of life that comes from the gods.
As a visitor to New Zealand, you should not initiate the hongi, but it is proper to respond if someone greets you with the gesture. Many Kiwis have adopted the gesture into their routine, but its primary significance lies among the Māori.
If you are visiting Peru, you might be surprised by the amount of physical touching that occurs. Close friends often greet one another with a handshake and an embrace, even leaving the arm around the other’s shoulders briefly.
It is also not uncommon to keep your right hand resting on your friend’s stomach as you greet one another. For people from many other cultures, this can be uncomfortably familiar, but you will get used to the different levels of physical touch that are normal and even expected in Peru.
In The Philippines, greetings are affected by the age of each person participating. If a young person is greeting an elder, they may perform a gesture known as “Mano”. This greeting involves taking one of their hands and pressing it to your forehead while performing a small bow. It shows respect for them as an elder in the community.
People of similar age usually greet one another with a polite handshake and sometimes a pat on the back. If the greeting occurs between two people of opposite sexes, the man usually waits for the woman to offer her hand first. Friends and family might greet one another with a hug or a kiss on the cheek.
Unlike in some other cultures where handshakes are very firm or forceful, they are generally more relaxed or casual in The Philippines.
Russians, like the people of many other cultures, usually greet one another with a handshake. But don’t be surprised if this handshake is a bit forceful, especially if you are a man being greeted by another man.
The Russian form of a handshake is to fiercely grip the other person’s hand and give a few firm shakes while maintaining direct eye contact. This eye contact might feel uncomfortable if you’re not used to it, but don’t try to avoid it. Not looking into the other person’s eyes is considered very rude.
Handshakes also happen between persons of different sexes and between women. These, in general, might be a bit gentler. In Russia, friends and family members may also greet one another with a series of kisses on the cheek, usually switching sides. You might even find someone kissing your hands to say hello!
In Thailand, people greet one another with a special bow known as the wai. To perform this, press your palms together in front of your chest and dip your head. When your head is inclined, your chin should rest on your thumbs, with your fingers resting against your forehead.
You may see older people performing the wai with their hands at their chest rather than at their forehead. This is a polite acknowledgment of a younger person while maintaining the elevated status of a senior.
With foreigners, Thais will often use a handshake as a greeting. However, it is considered proper for a woman to extend her hand first.
In Turkey, young people often greet their elders by grasping their hand, kissing it, and then touching it to their forehead. This is a gesture of deep respect, which has its ties in the widespread practice of Islam throughout the country and the cultural deference to elders.
To greet a person of the same age or social status as yourself, it’s not uncommon to combine a handshake and a series of cheek kisses. This is even proper when meeting someone for the first time. Unlike in other European cultures, the number of kisses isn’t specified — as long as they are an even number!
Telling someone hello seems like a simple thing, but it is rooted in the concepts of respect, status, and our place in the world. When you make an effort to learn about how to wish salutations in different cultures, you show that you have respect for the people who live there and their beliefs, traditions, and practices; this will also transfer over to learning how to better say farewell in cards.
Don’t worry if you make a mistake — most people know that their customs aren’t universal and are forgiving of foreigners when they don’t do everything perfectly. The fact that you are trying is the important thing and makes all the difference!
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