You’ve carefully planned what you’ll wear. You’ve secured reservations at fabulous restaurants. And your hotel — the best of the best! But did you learn how to greet the native people in the destination? One kiss or two? Or just a handshake? Don’t commit a traveler faux pas! Avoid an awkward situation, and learn how to greet people around the globe.
In America we have the handshake; in France they have the bise. This French greeting is at least one kiss on each cheek but could go up to five, depending on the region and how well you know the person. Start by offering your right cheek, and go with the flow.
Influenced by their friends across the channel (Bonjour!), some Brits have embraced the kiss. The air kiss is considered a posh move and is reserved for people you have met during a social occasions. If you don’t know the personal well, greet with a firm handshake, a smile, and eye contact.
The air kisses don’t flow freely in Germany. In fact, one etiquette group tried to ban air kissing in the workplace. Stick to a handshake unless you know the person very well—in that case, one air kiss will do.
In Italy and most of Europe, one or two quick kisses is normal, and three or more is extremely rare. The kiss greeting is typically between a woman and a woman or a man and a woman, though there are some regions where men greet each other with a kiss. (If you’re a man greeting a man, feel free to play it safe with a handshake). And if you don’t know the person at all, a handshake is acceptable as well.
Are you in Spain for business? If so, go for a handshake. Otherwise, be prepared for dos besos. Two kisses is common, especially if it’s someone you know well and haven’t seen in a while. But if you’re a male, a light hug or handshake is the way to go.
The Dutch keep it simple with a straightforward three-kiss rule: start with the right cheek, then left, and end with one more on the right. The air kisses are typically for friends and relatives, so don’t stress about having to get up close and personal with your cab driver. Also, like in Italy, men greet each other with handshakes unless they know each other very well.
In Brazil, warm greetings that include a hug and a kiss (or three!) is common. While men often greet each other with a small hug, meetings between two women and women and men include kisses. The number varies by region, so follow the other person’s lead!
Another South American country where greetings are warm and friendly, Argentina is no stranger to the air kiss. A polite peck on the cheek as well as a hug is the norm, even with people you aren’t close with. And this applies for all interactions, including men meeting other men.
A handshake in Chile is typical for first time meetings. Once you get to know someone, a hug or one kiss on the cheek is the way to go. Be sure to have direct eye contact as well!
A quick, light handshake is the modern way to greet someone in China. Unlike those in sizzling South America, the Chinese are not keen on a lot of personal contact, so keep it brief.
Forget an air kiss or even a handshake—in Japan people greet each other with a bow. But don’t stress about this custom. Simply bend slightly forward at the waist and say a greeting, like “Konnichi wa”. Click here for a visual guide.
Though Thai people won’t be offended by a handshake from a Westerner, the traditional greeting is the wai. To do a wai, place your hands in front of your chest, palms together, and lower your head towards your hands. The lower your move your head shows more respect.
Like Thailand, Indians are used to shaking hands with Westerners. But if you want to do a traditional greeting, place palms together, nod, and say “Namaste”.
Much like the United States, Australians greet each other with a handshake and “G’day!” Close friends, however, do a single air kiss.
In South Africa, a simple handshake is the custom. Unlike the United States, however, the handshake can get a little tricky and more elaborate. Read this article to see how to do this handshake.