15 International Greeting Rituals Americans Should Adopt

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1. Hongi

The traditional welcome greeting of the Maori—the indigenous people of that other place down under, New Zealand—is called the hongi. Loosely translated as “the sharing of breath of life,” the greeting involves two individuals pressing their noses against each other gently.

2. Hand Claps

An evening greeting in Zimbabwe involves hand clapping. Men clap hello and goodbye with their flat hands while women traditionally cup their hands. A few quick claps can also mean “thank you.”

3. Salam

This traditional Malay greeting resembles a simple handshake, but incorporates both hands to initiate the greeting. The two people lightly grasp both hands and then bring both to rest, palms down, on their own chest. The gesture symbolizes goodwill and that you greet the other person with an open heart.

4. Kunik

Inuit cultures greet each other with a “kunik,” which is similar to the hongi in that the greeter presses his or her nose and upper lip against their friend. The ritual greeting comes from the Inuit tradition of sniffing the face of a buddy or family member as a sign of affection.

5. Pressing thumbs

This traditional Zambian greeting foregoes any handshaking whatsoever. Instead, the greeters gently squeeze each other’s thumbs to say hello.

6. 3-part handshake

In Botswana the handshake is the normal greeting ritual, but they take it a few steps further. To begin, take another person’s right hand in yours in the normal handshake position—but only shake up and down one time. The next step involves keeping your thumbs interlocked while raising each right arm upwards to make a right angle, then end that step with a second grasp of the hands. Finally, with thumbs still linked, drop your arm back down for a final regular old shake of the hands.

7. Light Shake

They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it—or in China’s case, just do it without much eye contact. The western-style handshake is accepted in China as a greeting, but the preferred method comes with a couple of minor caveats. The lighter the grip the better, and the greeting should always be done in a constant pumping motion. While doing so, make sure not to make eye contact; staring sternly into someone’s eyes is seen as a sign of disrespect.

8. Bow

The bow is perhaps the most recognizable non-Western greeting tradition, but the act goes past a mere bending at the waist. In Japan, the extent of the bow correlates to the amount of respect shown to the recipient. Casual bows begin with a small nod of the head—a gesture more common among casual youth interactions—and can go all the way to ninety-degree bends at the waist as the most extreme example of the sometimes reverential greeting.

9. Wai

Thailand’s similar version of the bow is called a “wai.” It involves placing both of your own hands together as if in a prayer position, and holding them at chest level. The higher the hand position is on your body, the more respectful the gesture is to the recipient. The hand position is then accompanied by a slight bow to top it off.

10. Sungkem

One variation on bow-type greetings is practiced on the Indonesian island of Java. People clasp both hands at about waist-height while one person bows down towards their joined hands as a sign of deep respect and greetings.

11. Sticking out your tongue

Stick your tongue out just about anywhere else in the world and you’ll get in trouble—if not a few weird looks—but not in Tibet. Sticking one’s tongue out is seen as a customary welcome, and the tradition, in fact, comes from an evil black-tongued 9th century king named Lang Darma. To prove that you weren’t the reincarnated king, people would stick their tongue out to show it wasn’t black.

12. Sogi

Another greeting similar to the hongi and to the kunik is the sogi, the traditional greeting of the small Polynesian island of Tuvalu. The greeting involves firmly pressing your nose against the other person’s nose and inhaling deeply at the same time.

13. Nose Kiss

The men of Oman take the nose-based greeting a step further. They press their noses together, but then repeatedly peck them together over and over as if kissing. Some people who greet like this also make kissing noises while they do it.

14. Hada

Mongolians traditionally welcome unfamiliar guests by presenting them with a “hada,” a strip made of either silk or cotton. To politely accept the greeting gift, one should slightly bow as a sign of mutual friendship.

15. Spitting

Saving perhaps the best for last, the Maasai tribe of Kenya and Tanzania greet friends by spitting on one another. Spitting is still acceptable when greeting elders, but a younger tribesman traditionally spits on his own hand before offering it to older members of the tribe as a sign of respect.

All images courtesy of iStock unless otherwise stated. 

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September 15, 2014 - 1:15am
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