Kiss, hug or shake hands?

This is the first in a new series of collaborative posts, where we explore different social situations from the point of view of our contributors around the world.

Today’s topic: how to greet people in different countries.


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Argentina

What to say

When we meet someone in Argentina we say:

-¡Hola! ¿Como estas? (Hi, how are you?)
-¿Que hacés? (more informal, the equivalent to What’s up?)
-¿Todo bien? (You all right?)
- Bien y ¿vos? (I’m fine and you?)

Or more formally:

-Buenos días/Buenas tardes (Good morning / afternoon) or
-Hola, ¿Qué tal? (which doesn’t make much sense grammatically to me but I say it anyway! This greeting is more general and somewhat friendlier.)

Kiss, hug or shake hands?

In Argentina, people are fairly tactile: we hug and kiss and hold hands all the time. We give one peck on the check when we greet friends and family and even acquaintances. When we’re introduced to new people, say at a party, we tend to kiss too, especially women. Men hug and kiss their friends too (both male and female). In a more formal situation, we shake hands (at least the first time we meet.)

This men-kissing-men (on the cheek) takes a lot of getting used to, especially for Anglos. It’s been my experience that they take to kissing girls like fish to water but having to kiss other men freaks them out, although it eventually comes naturally to them.

By Ana, Regional Contributor in Argentina.

Brazil

What to say

In Brazil, we can be pretty formal in greetings in a business setting, like “Olá, prazer em conhecê-lo” (Hello. Nice to meet you).

Kiss, hug or shake hands?

Brazilians are really well-known for the warm, latin-american-like greetings, very effusive, festive with lots of kisses and hugs. Among men, if they are friends, there’s generally a light hug and a tap on each other’s back. Among men and women or women/women, kisses are the norm.

How many? Well, that’s where the problem comes in! It will depend on the region. In Brasilia, my hometown, we kiss twice on the cheek. If you go a bit farther, more to the south of Brazil, let’s say, São Paulo, then one kiss is the routine. So, you’d better check in advance how many kisses and how tight you should hug a Brazilian! Anyway, with Brazilians, everything will do, kisses, hugs, taps. Leave shaking hands only to formal situations.

By Carla, Regional Contributor in Brazil.


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Great Britain

What to say

Our main greeting (used at all times of the day)

-Hello, how are you?
-Fine thanks / Very well, thanks

At this stage in the conversation you should always pretend to be fine, even if you are not. This is the expected answer. You can only break this rule with a really good friend.

Different areas of the UK sometimes have regional greetings. For example in Yorkshire it’s common to say Alright! instead of “hello, how are you?”.

In more formal situations we say “Good Morning’’, “Good Afternoon” or “Good Evening”. These are commonly used more when speaking on the telephone as well.

Kiss, hug or shake hands?

We British are usually not very tactile, although we’re getting better at it. On meeting someone for the first time, we would normally shake hands if it’s a formal situation (at work for example), or even just smile at each other. If it’s a friend or casual acquaintance, we would hug or (between two women or a man and woman) make one kiss on the cheek.

By Lucy, editor


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Romania

What to say

To a certain point, the way we greet each other in Romania resembles that in the UK. We say:

Buna dimineata! (Good morning!) or Buna ziua! (Good afternoon!) or Buna seara! (Good evening!) in the more formal situations, with people we meet for the first time, or with our boss, our clients, etc

And we can add: Ce mai faceti? (How are you).
The answer on this occasion is Bine, multumesc ( Fine thanks).

But when we greet our colleagues, friends or close people things change a little. We say:

-Buna, Ce mai faci? / Salut! Ce mai faci ? (Hi, how are you?) -Bine (Fine) or Nu prea bine (Not too well) followed by details of the problem.

Kiss, hug or shake hands?

As for hugging and kissing: people hug and kiss on the cheek often – women with women, women with men or even men with men, but less frequently – if they are very young or if they are close. And sometimes if they are colleagues (for example on Martisor day, the 1st of March, when men in our office bring us Martisoare). Older men used to kiss a woman‘s hand instead of shake hands when they were introduced or when they met for example in the street.

If a man wants to impress a woman or to show great respect he usually says Sarut Mana! (which, in a word for word translation, means Kiss Your Hand!)

By Carmen, Regional Contributor in Romania.


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India

What to say

In India, greetings are indicators of the relative position of individuals in the social hierarchy.

Put in simple English, it means that I will greet someone older differently from someone in my age group or someone younger. This also changes with the gender of the person I am addressing.

Here are examples from Hindi:

How are you? (Greeting an older male/female)
-Kaise hain aap / Kaisi hain aap (aap is the respectful ‘you’)
-Bahut Badhiya, aur aap? (Very fine, and you?)

Greeting an equal
-Kaise hain aap (formal) / Kaise ho tum (semi-formal) / Kaisa hai tu (informal)
-Bahut Badhiya, aur aap? (Very fine, and you?)

Greeting someone younger
-Kaise ho tum (formal) / Kaisa hai tu (informal)
-Bahut Badhiya, aur aap? (Very fine, and you?)

All these are greetings directed towards men. When I greet women or girls, Kaisa changes to Kaisi.

To use the Namaste greeting you add a word defining the person’s relationship with you after the Namaste.

Greeting someone older
-Namaste Uncle/Aunty/Bade bhai (Big Brother)/Bhabhi (sister-in-law)…

Greeting an equal
-Namaste ji (formal) / Namaste bhai /bhabhi (brother/sis-in-law) (semi-formal)

Namaste is not generally used to greet someone younger than you as it is considered a formal, respectful greeting.

Kiss, hug or shake hands?

Close friends hug. Man hugs man, woman hugs woman. Older uncles and aunties hug younger children.

Grandparents are not to be hugged, you are supposed to touch their feet and receive blessings for a long life, a speedy marriage, numerous children, etc. Kissing is a big no-no. Only infants are to be publicly kissed.

The touching feet business, especially in large family gatherings leads to funny situations. Within the space of a few seconds, I have to decide whether the beaming relative headed my way is my senior or junior in family hierarchy. Age has got nothing to do with it. I have got ‘uncles’ who are half my age. So, I watch his body language, is he bending forward to touch my feet or is he preparing to raise his right arm in benediction. Most of the times this works. When it fails, I just move on to another pair of feet I am sure of!

By Sanjay, Regional Contributor in India.


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Singaporean Chinese

What to say

I’m from Singapore and I refer to myself as Chinese, because that’s my ethnic race. Our main greeting (used at all times of the day) is:

-你怎么样? (A very casual way of saying ‘How are you?’)
-很好 (very good) / 不错 (not bad) / 马马虎虎 (an idiom literally translated to ‘horse horse tiger tiger’, means ‘so so’)

Unlike usual English greetings, we Chinese are more casual. It is ok to say that you’re not doing too good, even on the first encounter.

In more formal situations, we say ‘你好吗?‘ (how are you?) to which we reply the same way. However, these greetings are not used that often in China. We usually nod our heads and simply say ‘你好.’ (hello).

Kiss, hug or shake hands?

We Chinese tend to be more conservative. On meeting someone for the first time, we would usually nod our heads and smile or shake hands (in formal situations). Kissing on the cheeks might make those who are not used to Western practices rather uncomfortable.

(My parents blushed when they came to Spain for the first time and my boyfriend’s parents kissed them on both cheeks! ha!)

Thanks to Nellie for joining us as a guest contributor on this post. Find Nellie on her blog WildJunket.


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The Philippines

What to say

The first thing you should know is that in the Philippines we have loads of languages and dialects (more on this in a future post). English is widely spoken here and we also have the vernacular Filipino with Tagalog as its base.

We often greet each other with: Magandang Umaga (morning); Magandang Hapon (afternoon); or Magandang Gabi (evening).

It’s not really “Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening”. It’s more than that. It’s a “Beautiful Day” or “Magandang Araw” to accurately describe what’s ahead for you and me. Sadly, something gets lost in translation.

There’s also “Magandang Tanghali” for noontime, which probably has no direct translation in English. This may have something to do with the time of the day in taking meals (breakfast in the morning; lunch at noon; snacks in the afternoon; dinner in the evening). We just love to eat.

Then it’s followed by something borrowed from the Spanish, “Kumusta?” (from como estas).

If one would talk to younger/trendy folk, one will probably get an answer like “Okay naman.” Notice that it’s a mixture of English and Filipino.

The standard reply would be, “Mabuti naman. Ikaw?” (”I’m good. You?”)

Kiss, hug or shake hands?

These rules on physical contact are conservative, but guaranteed not to get you into any trouble!

Kissing (on the cheek) is only for family and close friends. Hugging is for family, close friends, or a friend you haven’t seen for a long time. You shake hands when you’re formally introduced or you just got acquainted.

There’s also the customary beso-beso (placing one’s cheek to the other or air kisses as my wife told me) between women in some circles. Between men and women, this has been adopted over time but beso-beso between men in the Philippines is a no-no. A firm handshake would do just fine.

The explanation behind this is quite simple: it’s just not ‘manly’ for most Filipino men. Macho, right?

By Bryan, Regional Contributor in the Philippines.


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What about you? How do you greet people in your country?

Read more:
How to say hello in 20 languages
World cup updates from around the world
Want to write about your country? We’re looking for contributors

About the author

Lucy (Liz) Chatburn
Lucy is English and first ventured out of the UK she was 19. Since then she has lived in 4 different countries and tried to see as much of the world as possible. She loves learning languages, learning about different cultures and hearing different points of view.
Other 501 posts by

48 Comments

  • Wow! This is a fantastic read! Thanks, Liz for putting it all together.

  • Great material to use in class. Thanks.

  • By the way, I´m Brazilian, so I used to kiss people on the cheek, in formal situations . For me, two kisses will do. I don´t usually kiss them three times, which fequently happens here. After the third kiss, we say “três pra casar!” (a thing we say to single people and which means: three kisses, so you can get married!). When I meet my very close friends, I like to hug them.

  • Sanjay, thanks! It was a lot of fun putting this together. Thanks for your part in it. But Indian greetings seem so complicated! I would be very worried about choosing the wrong level of respect and causing offence. Does that ever happen?

    Cleide, thanks for your comments. In Europe the number of kisses differs between countries, which is confusing sometimes. In most of continental Europe (France, Spain etc) it’s two kisses. But in the UK we only do one. The problem is, now I lived abroad for so long I can’t stop myself going for the second kiss so it causes confusion sometimes when I go back to the UK. And in the Netherlands I think they do three kisses.

  • Great post!! Kudos. @ Liz : In India, often you can get away with a plain “Namaste ji” and “Kaise ho aap” irrespective of the hierarchy. These formal greetings work well for almost all the situations!

  • @Liz: Actually, till I sat down to write about it, it did not seem that complicated…I have been doing it all my life. As for your question, the same rules do not apply to visitors. You are ‘outside’ the hierarchy, so to speak. So, the generic, namaste works. The thumb rule is to have the respectful tone of voice when talking to elders. And remember, no kissing!

  • Oh dear… now my mum is asking why I don’t touch her feet :-)

  • Sean O.

    In the US, there’s a lot of different kinds of men/men handshakes, and the “fist bump”, which usually is men/men, though occaisionally men/women, though rarely women/women.

  • We usually say: Hello, good to see you (informally) or Nice to meet you? (formally)

  • What a fantastic post. I’m forwarding this to all the teachers I know as it’s a great set up for discussion. But I have to say, it seems that greetings are a veritable mine field!

  • verdiinpink

    In Thailand, we don’t touch, hug, kiss each other. But instead we greet friends and colleagues and pay respect to seniors by ‘wai,’ which is a gesture you put your palms together in a lotus bud at your chest and bow your head so that the tip of your thumb fingers touch your chin (friend), nose (senior), and in-between eye brows (monk, royal family). Nowadays, among younger generation, we tend to just wave our hands and sometimes hug.

    For the greetings, just say “sawasdee kha (female)” or “sawasdee krub (male)” and “laa gorn” for Goodbye or use the same “sawasdee” for goodbye.

    Interesting post, really.

  • In Norway, the main greeting is simply “hei”. When leaving, we say “ha det bra” or just “ha det” (meaning “be well”). Leaving work in the afternoon, colleagues will often say “god middag” (meaning “good dinner”) to one another.

    We introduce ourselves to others (rather than wait for someone to introduce us) and shake hands – both in formal and informal settings. Titles (mrs, mr, dr) and surnames are never used, not even between children and adults. Everyone uses first names. Even the prime minister is Jens.

    Like Brits, we’re not very tactile. When meeting acquaintances, we shake hands. Friends greet each other with hugs, both as hello and goodbye.

  • senem

    i like this post a lot..in Turkey we kiss the hands of the eldest ones..like granmothers,grandfathers etc…it is a kind of respect i guess something like in India(they use to touch the feet)
    first you kiss the hand and then you make it touch to your front..

    interesting isn’t it?
    good days

  • verdiinpink, Sophie and Senem, thanks so much for telling us about what happens in your countries. It’s so interesting to learn about how customs differ (and what are the similarities too!)

    Hope we’ll get more comments so we can compare even more places.

  • senem

    hi again
    i just would like to add that in Turkey we normally use to kiss two times..if it is a close friend normally we hug after kissing both cheeks..
    we start with:
    “merhaba(or we say selam means hi to close friends),nasilsin?-hello,how are you?”
    “iyiyim ya sen?-fine and you?”
    we kiss both cheeks and then hug..
    when we say goodbye we kiss again and hug again eventhough if we are going to see our friend tomorrow ,we kiss (and most of the time we hug) always
    –the odd thing for europeans is; in Turkey men kiss both cheeks too.men in turkey they hug also..i mean if they are really close friends..
    we really like to touch and hug.
    .i am not telling how we touch and kiss children ..after saying hello normally we add the word”masallah” for the children as well so that the word could protect the beauty of the children from the bad eyes:)))

    that’s it for now;i would like to give some more info..hope you enjoyed
    by the way;i lived for some period in méxico they use to kiss from one cheek like in England Liz..interesting no…méxican man they just hug that’s it..no kissing..atention!:)
    happy days
    senem

  • mariko

    Hi! I’m Mariko. I want to know the origin of shaking hands, kissing, waving hands when they say good-bye.
    Thank you very much for your response in advance.

  • Hi Mariko! Thanks for your comment. I heard that the origin of shaking hands comes from historical times when people carried weapons (swords for example). Someone shaking hands with the right (sword carrying) hand showed that they didn’t intend to use their sword.

    As for kissing and waving hands, I don’t know the origin. Maybe someone else can help!

  • Carrie

    Great post! In the US, one of the common greetings esp amongst young people is “What’s up?” Seems common there but a lot of people around the world don’t know how they are supposed to answer! The reply is “nothing” (even if there is lots going on)

  • Renato

    A short comment to number 4 – Liz. Please we humans should not blabla only. Your comment about continental Europe (France, Spain etc.) If you observe well, it is in France 3 Kisses all the other Latino countries are two kisses. The Anglo & German countries they started much later, beginning with it in circles of art. These countries are more “cold”, if that may be mentioned. So don’t be confused any longer. Cioa

  • Hello, we are at our greetings to the Arabs through the handshake but the woman does not shake hands with a man unless he is with his family either by strangers, just simply saying Peace be upon you

  • sorry I mean just simply saying ” Alslamu Alekom “

  • Dinis Lourenço

    Another really funny difference about kissing other cultures is wich cheek first! In Portugal (where I’m from) is left-right but I’ve been in Strasbourg and it was right-left

  • Oh this always catches me out! It happened so many times that I went for the wrong cheek and everybody got embarassed!

  • Thayná

    Perfect, will help a lot in my work. A Brazilian student say thanks!

  • I liked the image of the two children they are very nice
    And also the subject also liked
    Bay Aashbab

  • I am working on a children’s book about greetings from around the world. I would like to thank you for this post and the numerous comments, they are very helpful! Thank you!

  • jennifer Meza Robles

    I loving it…this kind of readind are very interesting for our life …and more if maybe we’ll be in other countries..

  • In Cameroon you shake hands and say “Bon Jeur”, but if your hand is dirty you shake the other person’s arm.
    In Papua, New Guinea you may greet someone by “snapping knuckles.” We greeted Peruvians with a hug and peck on each cheek. On one occasion in London, a hotel doorman greeted me by saying, “It’s a good day, aye!” The aye is said like a question and lifting the voice. Kind of neat, I thought. In our travels we have encountered many different kinds of cultural greetings.

  • In cambodia, I’m a student. I greet them with sampeh- I put my hands together in front of chest and bow slight. And shake hands.

  • Ahoj!
    In the Czech Republic we shake hands – a formal way when you greet with your boss or when you are being introduced to someone older, someone who you will not have a friendly relationship or more :)

    We hug a lot with the family, friends or when we are being introduced to friends from our friends :D

    We hug and kiss. Usually the first kiss is on the left cheek, then the right one. With friends we also do kisses straightly on lips, not just cheeks, it is more like what the person wants, it is up to you and the person you are with.

    Men usually just hug or tap on each other’s back. If men kiss each other, so it is only as a joke to entertain ladies around but they feel disgusted by doing it and it is not comfortable to them to kiss. A hand shake, a hug or just a back tap is what they do in CZ

    I live one year in the UK now and so far I can say that people here in Essex do not know much bout greetings. They almost don’t hug, don’t do kisses, any hand shakes. They just smile and that’s it..if they kiss, so it is only on one cheek (they usually do not care which side) and if they hug you so it is in a way that they almost do not touch you. Some people are very shy :) But others squeeze too much and a lot of them get very confused when it comes to any kind of greetings because they are not get used to any kind of greetings :D

  • maria

    I come from Philippines, Yes it’s true hugs and kisses is only for the relatives and for the close friends, if you’re both girls hugs and kisses, it can be and it’s called beso-beso but it can’t be for the boys and girls ’cause 90% of the Filipinos are still coservative… We usually greet each other by smiling and sometimes shakehands….We also speak taglish means tagalog and English but the names of objects, we usually use the spanish words like posporo which means “matches”….

  • Samar

    Hi it was fantastic by the way I am from Iran in Iran people kiss onthe cheak for three times in az iran is an islamic country womens just hug another womanes and it happends for mens to

  • najmeh

    Hi.i am from iran.in my country men doesnt kiss and hug women.

  • Virginia Manso

    Brasilian is not a language.
    In Brazil the people speaks Portuguese language.
    So, the language is Portuguese!

  • amir hossein

    thanks a looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooot

  • Bahar

    Thanks…….
    im iranian and in my country shake hands is better than the other……and its usual in iran

  • Aylin

    Hi. In Iran close male friends or colleagues hug and kiss both cheeks for three times. They shake hands with the right hand only. Contact between the opposite genders in public is considered obscene. Do not offer to shake hands with the opposite sex.
    When you greet for the firs time with opposite sex , its common a slight bow and saying Salam(hi).shake hands happen between both men or women for the first time and in formal situations.

  • Thanks a lot for the info. This is exactly what I needed for my work in class.
    In Poland, when we meet a person for the first time we usually shake hands and say Hello. With a close friend we hug or kiss. Sometimes we kiss three times on a cheek but I guess the tendency is gradually changing. (two kisses or one on a cheek)

  • hi friends
    I’m from iran. in my country usually peopel shaking hands when meeting together. we have kissing on the cheeks tree times and hug is a kindes of greeting in my country.

  • Hi, friends.
    I’m a boy come from Iran, and I’m Arabic originally, And I think that Arabic people have a good custom.
    and this custom is kissing each other on the shoulders.

  • thanx for this info. I am a teacher and i will use this info .in my classes..God bless everyone ;)

  • Sharon Simon

    I have enjoyed reading the posts about greetings. I was looking for information on greetings from around the world, and how there are sometimes problems for people that do not understand what greetings and gestures to use when meeting new people. Thanks so much for making this site available.

    BTW, in my corner of the world ( West Virginia, USA) people usually greet by shaking hands if they are men, just saying nice to see you if they are women, and hugs may be given if they are meetings as established friends. It should be noted, however, that greetings will vary in different parts of the country. Also, people in professional jobs tend to greet others more formally.

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