Depending on where you travel in the world, you could find yourself shaking hands, bowing or even touching noses with those you meet. When doing business at an international level, this can certainly make things difficult, as you dither in confusion over how to correctly greet your new companions.
To greet or not to greet
Lucy Kellaway wrote for the Financial Times that a business trip to Singapore was made tricky as she met with the attendees of an international banking event. On one occasion, when meeting a group consisting of a man from China, a woman from India and another from Australia, the four were so confused over how to greet each other until the moment slipped by and no greeting was made at all.
Ms Kellaway explains that diversity is a good thing – except for when it comes to meeting people, in which case “diversity of greeting is deplorable” because you have to also take into account people’s personal preferences once you know them better, you find yourself kissing and hugging some colleagues and not others – which has the added difficulty of suggesting favouritism.
In order to clear up any confusion, the writer jokingly suggests introducing regulations that would stipulate the standard greeting is a handshake, with people allowed to opt-out on cultural and religious grounds. Name badges could feature symbols to indicate how the wearer prefers to be greeted.
Be aware of cultural differences
However, another way to overcome the confusion that arises when travelling abroad to meet potential customers, clients and partners is to familiarise yourself with how people greet each other in those countries. If you’re planning on exploring the world any time soon, avoid getting lost in translation and check out our guide to the customary ways of greeting those you might meet along the way.
A confident right-handed handshake is customary in Australia. Be sure to make eye contact with the person you are greeting, as it shows you respect them and are listening to what they say.
Brazilians are a passionate people, so whilst a firm handshake is usually becoming the acceptable business greeting, you shouldn’t be surprised if you get a kiss on the cheek as well if you’re more than acquaintances. Close friends usually greet each other with a warm hug.
The handshake is also the traditional form of greeting in the UK, although the lines have become blurred in recent years. To be on the safe side, if you are meeting a person for the first time shake their hand firmly. If you have met them before it may be acceptable to kiss them on the cheek – but if you want to be safe, let them take the lead.
When doing business in China, always greet the most senior person first as it shows respect. Typically, the oldest member of the group will be the most senior as the Chinese are very reverential of their elders. Don’t forget to give each of them your business card – and you’ll get double points if you translate the text into Mandarin as well.
When shaking hands in Germany, make your grasp a shade firmer than you would in the UK. Following a brisk and firm handshake, be certain to greet the person using their name and correct title.
Again, a handshake is an acceptable form of greeting in France, but if you have met the person even once before you could embrace the national tradition and ‘faire la bise’. This is the custom of kissing both of the person’s cheeks, and you will need to do it with each person in the group – no matter how long this takes!
Feel free to shake hands when meeting someone on business in India, but the traditional greeting is a Namaste – a slight bow made while placing the palms together. Men in India will usually avoid making physical contact with women they have just met, so a Namaste will be the preferred greeting if there are both men and women in the group.
If it is your first time meeting someone in Indonesia then it if fine to shake hands. However, this handshake should be much lighter than one that would be used in Western countries. After shaking, it is customary to briefly touch your heart in a sign of respect. You can also team your friendly handshake with a slight nod of the head. After that, a bow will do whenever you greet that person.
When in Rome, or anywhere in Italy for that matter, don’t be surprised if people you have only met once grab you for a warm hug. While a firm handshake is the standard greeting when meeting someone for the first time, on all occasions after that it may be acceptable to go in for an embrace.
Bowing is customary when meeting someone in Japan, but how you bow very much depends on who you are greeting. If it is someone you know well, you can get away with little more than a nod, but if you are making their acquaintance for the first time you should opt for a deep bow from the waist.
The traditional way of greeting in New Zealand is based on the age-old Māori custom of ‘hongi’. Upon meeting, two people will press their noses and foreheads together in a pose that represents sharing the breath of life with one another. If this seems too intimate though, don’t worry – a friendly handshake will do!
An initial greeting with a Russian may be a reserved affair, with just a handshake or a nod all that is required. After this, meetings get more physical and may consist of kissing cheeks and hugging.
The handshake here is far lighter than it is in the UK. There is a traditional handshake that involves shaking hands upside down, but as a tourist you won’t be expected to attempt this so just make sure not to grip too tightly.
Get ready for plenty of ‘besitos’ to be bestowed upon you when you are in Spain or any Spanish-speaking country. This is the custom of touching your cheek to the cheek of the person you are greeting and making a small kiss sound.
We hope our guide helps you avoid any potential pitfalls the next time you greet people whilst overseas.