Worldwide greetings traditions


Few days ago our CMO walked in proudly as he just became father for the third time – of a sweet little girl this time. To my surprise everyone stood up and started kissing him on the cheeks congratulating him. In Norway (where I come from) you usually just stand up, shake hands and say congratulations. This sparked a discussion about the different greeting (kissing) traditions in the world.

The Kiss - Klimt (detail)

The Kiss - Klimt (detail)

I moved to the Netherlands 5 years ago from Norway and would never have thought that the Dutch would have such different greetings traditions than us Norwegians. In Norway we usually shake hands when we meet for the first time, or give hugs to people we know well and are friends with, however in the Netherlands they kiss – a lot!

kissing cheeks

kissing cheeks

The traditional kissing gesture here in the Netherlands is to give 3 kisses on the cheeks to people you are friends with or connected with like colleagues.

Because of this greeting tradition I’ve found myself in many awkward and embarrassing moments. They especially occur when you stand in a bar with loud music waiting for a person and you don’t know if you’re good enough friends with this person to kiss him/her on the cheeks yet. Then the person comes and you bend over to kiss him/her on the cheeks while he/she was just going to say hello, but due to the loud music he/she needed to get a bit closer.

That is one example, but then you have the general confusion whether you should give the kisses to your colleagues, manager, or trainer; the list is never-ending. Besides this, there are the general issues like whether you should actually give a kiss on the cheek or kind of kiss into the air. Should you make the little sound with your mouth when you kiss or not? To be honest, they all do it differently, so you will never know what to expect.

After discussing this with my colleagues, I realized that it is not only the Netherlands they have a different tradition of greetings. To my surprise there are a lot of countries with just as weird if not weirder greetings (in my opinion):

France: In France they seem to love kissing. Basically everyone kisses each other on the cheeks when meeting and leaving. Men also kiss each other on the cheeks, but only if they know each other well. Can you imagine a gangster from the ghetto in America doing this? How many kisses you give depends on where you come from in the country. In the north you either give 2 or 4, while in the south you mostly give 2 or 3. If you go to the west part you can get up to as many as 5 kisses or just 3 (single people should be happy over there).
So how do you know how many kisses you should give? Is there a secret code that we non-Frenchies should know about?

Greece: In Greece a slap on the back often take place instead of shaking hands. This got me wondering, how hard should you then slap? How do you know how much each person can handle?

Be careful when you greet someone with a slap on the back...

Be careful when you greet someone with a slap on the back...

Mozambique: People from the northern parts of the country clap their hands three times before saying hello.

Oman: In Oman you usually shake hands, but some men might kiss you on the nose. I wonder how many people have confused a nose kiss with a kiss on the lips.

Nose Kiss

Nose Kiss

Spain: In Spain they keep it easy with only two kisses if you know each other and a hand shake if you don’t.

India: You are not supposed to hug your grandparents, but touch their feet. In India you are not supposed to kiss in public, at all, so you therefore do not kiss people when you meet them either.

An Indian man greets a politician touching his feet

An Indian man greets a politician touching his feet

Central African Republic: Here good friends might slap your right hand, and then you grab each other’s middle finger using a thumb and middle finger, then “snap” the other person’s finger. Sounds extremely complicated to do.

Singapore: Here the greeters slide their palms together back, towards their own chest, then end with the hands over the heart.

Zambia: In Zambia some people greet each other by squeezing a thumb.

New Zealand – Maor: Some simply press their noses together when they meet, whilst keeping their eyes closed. Wow, they like it tricky these Maoris.

Maoris greets - by

Maoris greets - by

Polynesia: Here you take your friend’s hands and use them to stroke your face. Let’s hope your friend doesn’t have sweaty hands then.

East Africa: Some East African tribes pretend to spit on each others’ feet.

Bangladesh: When you greet someone here you have to do a relaxed salute with your right hand.

Eskimos: Bang the other party with a hand on either the head or shoulders. Hopefully their fully trained in doing this, so they won’t do it too hard.

Morocco: It’s shown as a sign of respect if you kiss your hand and then put it on your grandparent’s forehead or kiss the forehead.

Tibet: In Tibet you’re seen as very polite if you stick your tongue out to someone.

Sticking out tongue to show respect

Sticking out tongue to show respect - photo by

Benin: It might happen that the men snap their fingers while shaking your hands. That’s what I call coordination!

Middle East: Here you pronounce a sentence and then sweep your right hand up to your heart.

Tuvalu: Here relatives press a face to the cheek of the other and sniff deeply. Mmmmmm you smell delicious.

UK: the Brits like it simple with a simple kiss on the cheek.

Russia: In Russia the politicians like to kiss. It’s very common that the top leaders of the country kiss each other on the lips when they meet. Let’s not even discuss how weird that is to some politicians around the world :-).

Russian Politicians Kiss

Russian Politicians Kiss

What are the greeting traditions where you come from? Do you also find some kissing traditions a bit weird?

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About Maria

Hei! My name is Maria and I’m the office clown here at easytobook (I have a slight tendency to talk before thinking, which at times can be hilarious for other people). However when I’m not at work I tend to spend my time reading fashion magazines, dancing on large festival, listening to music, hanging out with friends and travelling. Furthermore I’m just a Norwegian settling into the Dutch culture. I hope you will enjoy my posts!

14 Responses to Worldwide greetings traditions

  1. butterfly says:

    well I am Zambian and no we do not greet eachother by squeezing a thumb hehehe

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  7. Very interesting post and easy to find the greeting difference.
    I’m Japanese and living in Australia, I’m in the fog about these greeting myself.

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  11. susan says: from iran it was very intresting .in iran u shouldnt kiss or hug women and u should cover all of your body

  12. susan says:

    i go to english class and i want to give a speech about greeting culture around the world.but im stress out because im not good in english:-(

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