Greeting Customs – How do you greet people where you’re from?

I’m fascinated by the differences in how people greet each other in different countries. What can be a show of affection among friends in one country, can signal an amorous advance in another.

Monique from France (of Mama Lisa’s World en français) came to visit me and my family earlier this month. While my husband and I waited for her to arrive at the airport, I remembered my days living in France. There, when people first see each other they faire la bise, which means “do the kiss”. The most common way to faire la bise is one kiss on each cheek. I clued my husband in on this custom. He was surprised and said, “Well, at least she’s a woman!”

When first meeting someone here in the US, at least in New York, most people will shake hands. Some women don’t follow this custom, but most younger women do. Most people in the business world shake hands when meeting a business associate – whether for the first time, or even if they’ve met before. But if two people work in the same office, they generally wouldn’t shake hands every day.

If you’re greeting a person you know, like a friend who you’ve seen recently, you’d probably just say hi. If it’s a family member, you might kiss them once on the cheek. If it’s a friend or family member who you haven’t seen for a while (or might not see again for a while) you might give them a kiss and an upper body hug. This would generally be between either two women, or a man and a woman, or sometimes two men who are related to each other (like a father and son).

I asked Monique for a clarification of the greeting customs in France. Here’s what she said…

The custom at a formal business meeting is shaking hands. (We wouldn’t kiss our boss.)

With friends and family, we’d usually give 2 kisses. In some places it’s 3 kisses, in other places, like Paris, it’s 4 kisses. But I couldn’t find a map of France with different colors to show how many kisses they give in each town!

We call it faire la bise even if there are several kisses. Une bise means a smack on the cheek. Un baiser means a kiss that refers more to a lovers’ kiss. (Take care: as a verb, it means something way more than a kiss!)

One kiss in France usually means a very close relationship, usually romantically involved.

We kiss, or faire la bise, “all the time”. That is, every day, if we meet every day. But only once a day.

This is between two women or a man and woman. Men usually shake hands or hug and pat each other’s shoulders. If they’re father and son, or close friends who haven’t seen each other for a long time, they would kiss.

In some families, people even kiss each other’s cheeks when saying good morning and good night.

I also noticed, when I was in New York, that you don’t hug the same way. Yours would rather be a “shoulders hug”. I mean that you push the top of the body (head and shoulders) forwards and you hug. We do that only when very moved, like at funerals and long time departures. For us, all the upper part of the body sticks together in the hug. I personally can only do that if the emotion is strong enough = we share a very close relationship.

When I introduced Monique to my parents, I told them about giving one kiss on each check, as is the custom of French people. That’s how they greeted Monique (and vice versa) the first time they met.

I asked Monique if she had met my parents under normal circumstances (that is, without me having discussed greeting customs beforehand) would she have kissed them twice on the cheeks (since she sort of knew them through me), or would she only have shaken their hands. Here’s what Monique said:

About meeting your parents: given that they’re your parents, I could have done either (shaken their hands or kissed them on each cheek) when meeting them, because we’d never met before.

Actually, it depends on what you feel.

According to the way I “felt” about them as people, independently of the fact that they’re your parents, my first “feeling” would have been to kiss them twice when meeting, and when leaving. But we step here into personal relationships, besides the customs.

There is some “grey” area about customs in general. They can be interpreted differently depending on the region and also the individual.

One thing is sure, be mindful when greeting an individual from another culture. That one friendly kiss we’d give to friend in New York, would signal something more romantic in Paris.

You’re welcome to comment below about greeting customs where you live.

Many thanks to Monique for her clarification of French greeting customs.


Note: Check out my later post about the importance of giving a firm handshake.

This article was posted on Thursday, September 14th, 2006 at 12:10 pm and is filed under Countries & Cultures, Customs and Traditions, English, Faire la bise, Faire la bise (To do the kiss), France, French, Greeting Customs, Languages, Mama Lisa, USA, Words & Phrases. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

74 Responses to “Greeting Customs – How do you greet people where you’re from?”

  1. Danielle Says:

    Hey Im from Costa Rica (in Central America). Here men usually shake hands and pat each other on the back, and if they meet each other they shake hands and give the half hug. Women kiss on the cheek regardless of the sex (unless it is in a business or very formal).
    When you meet new people you are usually expected to give them a kiss on the cheek (unless its two males), especially if they are your friend’s family or other friends. Otherwise you’ll seem rude. Also, if you see your friend at the mall with a group of friends you dont know, you should also greet their friends with a kiss on the cheek or handshake. Youll also seem rude if you dont.
    Casual greetings are pretty important if you want to make friends. Although once a couple (a friend’s sister & husband) from the US came and I greeted them both with a kiss on the cheek. The husband seemed happy/confused (as in: “people’s greetings here are friendly”) but his wife was unreadable. I turned bright red since my greeting was completely impulsive. It was so embarassing for me!

  2. Mary Says:

    I’m from Louisiana, USA, and I must admit, this is all very fascinating! Here, we greet each other depending not on gender, but on how familiar you are and age. For younger girls and boys, when greeting a stranger, all you do is say “Hi” and maybe wave. If an adult is involved in anyway, when greeting a stranger, you shake hands. But, if you are at all familiar with the person (you don’t have to have a close relationship) you hug when greeting each other, no matter the age or gender. We rarely ever kiss each other as a greeting, but if so, only an adult man would kiss the cheek of a female family member (like his mother or sister). Besides that, I never greet any of my friends or family members without hugging them. It would almost be rude if I didn’t.

  3. new world Says:

    I am from the USA and it seams like we have lost contact with each other if you want to say hi or goodbye or anything in between you TEX! that’s what it has come down to. We don’t see each other we just communicate throw technology! What have we come to!!! Shame on everyone who has lost contact of being face to face with people. It is so sad when you tex someone if you are at the same table as them!!! We live in a sad detached world at least where I live! To all you other country’s don’t let this happen to you!!!!!

  4. Korea Says:

    in Korea, between single women and men, we kiss and get it on.
    between men, we bow. between unavilable men and women, we bow as well.

  5. april Says:

    I say that they should

  6. Nylatak Says:

    In Australia, we both greet and say goodbye to our friends and family by hugging them. If seporating from a group we hug everyone, and sometimes our closest friends we will hug a few times. With people he have never met we shake hands or simply raise a hand and give a verbal greeting.

  7. joanna Says:

    well iam christian.we greet brothers and sisters from church by kissing them on the ckeeks. except man to man they just shake their hands to eachother. but it depends of the country we live iam dominican so here is use to kiss or shake hands asswell….thanks

  8. kim Says:

    I am also from Canada – living in Quebec but I am and English Canadian (who happens to also speak French). In Quebec, a kiss on each cheek is standard – between women, woman to man and often times between very good male friends (brothers, best buddies, cousins etc.). If the guy is particularly macho, he will not be kissing his buddies in public. Family greetings are rather more intimate, as one would expect.

    However, there is a growing phenomenon in English speaking regions of all of Canada for men and women to do a kiss on one cheek greeting. I am seeing this more and more. It is only a greeting between the sexes (meaning I have yet to observe two women greet this way, or two men) and it is even being done in certain business environments. I say SAY YES TO THE KISS!

  9. Rachel Says:

    Hailing from the United States’s Northwestern corner, particularly from Oregon.

    Depending on what region of America you’re from, greetings tend to be a little different, but almost all of them seem to rely on voice and very little on touch. I was raised Christian within a semi-conservative family, and relatives are usually greeted with emphatic hugs. But when greeting strangers, it’s usually a smile and an earnest hello, and a little small-talk to be polite, sometimes a handshake depending on the formality of the situation.

    Another point that might be worth researching for you is the ill-famed “Christian Side-Hug,” which I’ve never seen enforced/adopted by Christians I know, but it’s out there and it’s pretty silly.

  10. Ehsan Says:

    hi i am from Iran .when we see some one for first time just we say salaam,but with friends they do handshake,hugk ,kiss for same sex . but with oposit sex just we say salaam except family ,relations and close friend.

  11. mais Says:

    i come from jordan and here greetings are abit defferent women kiss each other on the cheek twice normaly but it could be more in holidays and happy events while men only shake hands
    however men never shake hands with a woman unless she’s realated like a neice an aunt or sth like it
    by the way my country is in the middle east

  12. chamorrito Says:

    i am native Chamorro, from Guam/Marianas Islands. We greet usually with a kiss on one cheek. But when you greet the elders we do what is called, MA’NGI’NGI, which means, to sniff or inhale. You take the hand of your elder and bring it to your nose and sniff their hand. It is an act of inhaling the wisdom and goodness of your elders. Elderly people will do similar when greeting young children or babies. What appears to be a kiss on the cheek is actually a small sniff. Perhaps a way for the elder to steal a little of the child’s vigor and energy as a way to extend their old age. It is usually a very short sniff as not to take all of the life from the baby. hehehe.

  13. ELLA Says:

    I am from the PHILIPPINES, kissing with strangers is not appropriate here in our country. We usually handshakes and just say “Hi” or “Hello” to people we met for the first time. Kissing and hugging is only for friend and families. We also have a tradition for greeting elders especially our grand parents, we do what is called “PAG- MAMANO”, which means we take the hand of the elder/grand parent and bring it to our forehead, it’s our sign of our respect to them.

    I just want to share our simple way of greeting to those people who want to visit our country someday!
    so they already have an idea on how to greet Filipinos.

  14. Chika Says:

    I’m from Norway and although it’s normal for us to greet with a hug, we only do so with friends we know. It actually also depends on the person. Its quite seldom that I greet a person I don’t know with a hug unless they’re a friend of my friends.

    Where I’m from originally (Nigeria) it is not really a custom to hug someone, which is why the hug may seem distant if you do receive one. But it also depends on the person I guess. Some people like hugging and some don’t, and some people just aren’t used it.

    Since I am very interested in Korean culture, I am very wary of hugging a Korean upon our first or even second meet, even if it is to say goodbye – as I was once a little offended by having received a rejection from a Korean I had asked to hug upon his leaving for his country. I know not to ask now, or take offence if the answer is no ^^

  15. Ariel Says:

    Hi! I’m From Virginia (USA) we greet people by how well we know each other. I always greet my Grandma/mama (Yes I still call her mama) with a hug and kiss. My dad with a hug and kiss. My friends with a hug and kiss as well.

    Other people great with a handshake or a hug, or a ‘hello/hi/what’s up’ or some form of a greeting. So I guess it depends on how comfortable with someone here in the states mostly.

  16. Alex Says:

    I’m from DFW, Texas and we just straight up shake hands. In less its an old lady and she might give you a kiss on the cheek if she knows ya.

  17. golshan Says:

    I’m from Iran. If you’re a man and wanna greet a woman you shouldn’t shake hand or kiss or something like it. The reason is our belief that doesn’t allow us to touch. But if both of you are a man or woman there’s not any problem and if you become more intimate it would be better.

  18. Kissing Culture-How Many Kisses Do You Give In Each Country | Street Talk Savvy Says:

    […] you meet the female partner of a male acquaintance, no kissing is the polite standard. This blog sums up the greeting given in the United […]

  19. scotland? Says:

    WHat about scotland?!?!

  20. farbod faramarzi Says:

    i am a teacher from iran a exactly an english teacher.our custom in greeting part to part is different.if it is for the first time and formal situation between 2men or 2women shake hands.becausmahrame of our religion we cant touch to namahram
    but for relatives it is different kissing hugging are common

  21. Mary ann Says:

    What about Korea, the Netherlands and Spain? Also which countries is it important to keep a certain distance from the person u are greeting? Home work then you all ;-)

  22. tex.mex Says:

    Hey y’all. I’m from southern Texas but lived briefly in Mexico and have both Caucasian and Mexican families so greetings vary. With my Mexican family we usually say hello, how are you? (hola, ¿ Cómo estas?) And usually with out waiting for an answer we hug and kiss on the cheek (usually for any gender or age). Most of the time, the younger generations will just hug unless they haven’t seen each other for a while. The elders get a bit insulted if not greeted with respect (I.e. Asking about their health, then hug them and a kiss on the cheek) but it varies on temperament. Usually, if you are barely meeting someone you still hug and kiss on the cheek, but not all the time.
    My Caucasian side is more formal. They tend to greet you with a handshake and a slight smile. The older women would sometimes hug you. If you are family, then you can hug and maybe kiss the cheek if you’re close but the men never kiss, only pat each others back while shaking hands or briefly “man hug”.
    Both cultures vary in greetings.

  23. Saleh Alaee Says:

    Know before you go!

    For all visitors who would like to visit my country for the first time, you have to know some significant rules of etiquette in my own country, Yemen, to be culturally literate.

    In my country when the people meet others for the first time they greet by shaking hands and they use right hands. Also sometimes they greet others by hugging but this greeting (especially relatives) is for men. Women also greet others but in another way, they greet by a quick shake with the right hand with a quick kiss of their right hand. However, in my country greetings are different between men and women.

    Concerning using a formal and informal address, people in my country use formal addresses when they’re in a special ceremony, office, or when they meet an old man or another one who is important. But when they meet in a street they use an informal address like saying hello or hi.

    By the way, table manners are necessary in my country. So use your right hand when you eat anything, also don’t speak or eat from under others. In our table manners, a lot of foods are not allowed, food a lot of other people eat such as pork and hard drink.

    Regarding punctuality, people in my country do not care about punctuality this makes me crazy, I always ask myself why do people do that? Why people don’t appreciate the appointment? It’s not civilization when you come late.

    Eventually, I will give you some tips if you think you want to visit my country such as:

    1. Wear some things more modestly if you want to go to Masjid.
    2. Do what the people do, wear clothes like them.

  24. Lisa Says:

    Saleh, thanks for the detailed explanation about etiquette in Yemen.

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