Hello and Other Greetings From Around the World

Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Is it ‘Hello?’ ‘Good Day?’ or ‘How did you wake?’ Will you clap your hands three times before saying hello or will we press cheeks and sniff each other deeply? We often take for granted our ways of greeting one another in our native land and can be lulled into believing it should be similar all over the world. After all, how could a smile, a handshake and a simple phrase be complicated? They can be if you presume that the addressing of others will be the same wherever you go.

Greetings are typically comprised of some kind of vocalization, a gesture or making contact with the other person (usually involving hands or faces), an offered sign of trust, or a combination of any of these. Who initiates the greeting, what words are used, the distance you stand apart, eye contact, body gestures, consideration of gender and age, and whether or not physical contact is made are all factors that can be as diverse as the world’s peoples.

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There is no lack of information on various world greetings. Compiled here are a few sites that describe some better-known customs:

  • Mary M. Mitchell for Reuters.com, described her friend’s experience of being introduced to a multitude of new greetings as an athlete at the Olympic Games.
  • Relocation Expert for MoveOneInc.com details the interesting gestures associated with greetings.
  • Bruce Van Patter for Let’s Get Creative has assembled a list of greetings from various regions of the world.
  • Ana Cortes and Nancy Cardona offer slides with photographs on cultural greetings.

Historians and communication experts widely agree that the handshake originated as a sign that neither party was holding a weapon. Kissing is a different matter. Although 90% of humans engage in some form of kissing, Neel Burton, M.D. writes for Psychology Today that kissing is “not universal among human beings, and, even today, there are some cultures that have no place for it.”

Image courtesy of patrisyu/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of patrisyu/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Kristina Fiore for ScienceLine.org explains that kissing is speculated to have come from the act of a mother engaging in mouth-to-mouth feeding of her offspring. Its continuation into adulthood and towards others outside of family may just be the fact that it feels good. However, scientists still haven’t come to a conclusion as to why humans kiss or how it originated.

In the biological sense, either handshake or kiss, along with whether or not to make eye contact, and proximity are all indicators of level of trust, the most essential understanding for a cooperative species. When meeting a total stranger for the first time, a certain amount of trust must be established before communication and exchange can ever begin.The acknowledgement is usually formal and brief. In comparison, when greeting a familiar person and the relationship is agreeable, the physical contact, gestures, proximity and word choice most likely will be different. The contact may become more frequent, intimate, and draw one another into personal space. The opposite holds true as well. There may be avoidance in contact, a show of a lack of respect, and gestures or phrases of a cold or hostile nature.

Keeping in mind that an acceptable greeting in one country may be offensive or confusing in another, it is a good idea to be versed in the customary greetings of any region you are planning to visit. Fortunately, when all else fails, a smile is universally received as a sign of friendliness. It, coupled with an open mind and genuine consideration of others, can usually make up for any unintentional blunders when it comes to greetings.

Have you encountered any greetings that were unfamiliar to you?

Written by Marlene Martzke for English Classes by Skype