When you picture non-verbal ways to say hello, what images come to mind? Most people assume that a wave or a handshake is the ultimate greeting option. But the reality is that there are countless ways to welcome another person. We’ve rounded up some of the top options as well as some lesser-known cultural greeting styles from around the globe.
Hands down, the handshake is one of the most common greetings that you can see demonstrated around the world. While there are slight variations that take into account cultural expectations, the mechanics are generally the same. You take hold of the opposite hand of the person you’re greeting and shake it.
But what’s in a handshake? It turns out, a lot. In terms of non-verbal communication, a handshake can create a good or bad first impression. If you grip too tightly, you can be seen as trying to assert dominance over the person whose hand you’re shaking. Shake too lightly, and you might come across as weak, ineffective, or disinterested in the person you’re greeting.
You spot your friend across the room, and you wave to let her know where you are. The hand wave is a casual greeting when compared to the handshake, which is typically reserved for first-time introductions and business affairs. You wouldn’t walk into a job interview and wave at the interviewer.
But there are instances where waving in a formal occasion is acceptable. Think of an elected official or monarch who opts to wave to his or her crowd. They don’t have time to shake the hand of every person in the audience. So a wave, while technically less formal than a handshake, would still be appropriate for that situation. However, waves can be seen as negative in some cultures so always check an etiquette tip sheet before traveling.
Without a doubt, a hug is a far more intimate greeting than a handshake or a wave. Except for certain cultures that greet even strangers this way, hugs are typically reserved for close friends, significant others, and relatives. In the workplace, hugging is usually frowned upon — for example in more conservative industries like finance or law. So proceed with caution when hugging, especially while on the job.
In Western cultures, the bow comes across as an extremely formal greeting and is something that’s usually reserved for the most prestigious of events. But in many parts of Asia, the bow is a standard form of greeting that features variations depending on the dynamic between the two parties. For example, in Japan, an employee would bow lower to his supervisor or the owner of a company to show deference or respect. A grandchild would also offer a bow to her parents and an even lower one to her grandparents.
However, if you’re a foreigner on holiday in Japan, you don’t need to stress yourself with the intricacies of the nation’s bowing culture. Unless you’re in a business meeting, a simple head nod of recognition to others should suffice.
Depending on your culture, this can be reserved to one, two, or three quick pecks. While it isn’t often associated with American culture — it's usually more of an Italian or greater European custom — a light kiss as a greeting is as American as apple pie, particularly in the South.
But there are variations. In many parts of the world, you don’t give a full kiss where your lips make contact with anything. In truth, you’re more “cheek to cheek” and kissing the air beside someone’s face. And likewise, it’s not a lingering kiss like you would give to a lover. So, even for cultures in which everyone greets you with a kiss whether in casual or formal settings, there are still boundaries.
Sticking Out Your Tongue
A tongue poke as a greeting is non-traditional, especially for Westerners. But in Tibet, this is a common way of saying hello to someone whether you know them or not. According to legend, Tibet was once ruled by King Lang Darma during the ninth century. He was a heartless ruler and had a black tongue. The Buddhist nation strongly believes in reincarnation. So after King Lang Darma died, people began briefly sticking out their tongue as a salutation to prove that they weren’t him reincarnated.
Most people associate the Hongi with New Zealand, but its origins are from the indigenous Māori culture. Over time the nation has begun to adopt the greeting. The Hongi is a forehead press where your forehead down to your nose is touching another person. According to Māori mythology, the god Tāne-Nui-a-Rangi created the first woman (Hine-ahu-one) and breathed life into her by pressing his forehead and nose to hers. Hence the greeting's other name, “the breath of life.” The Hongi is often performed as a standard greeting and for special occasions.