They say that first impressions are all-important. If so, the etiquette of greetings could be crucial in making that early bond with a stranger. Get it right and you could have yourself a friend for life, get it wrong and expect to be thrown out with the social refuse.
The handshake is undoubtedly the most recognised gesture of goodwill in the Western world. Most historians believe that it first came about when our ancestors displayed open palms to strangers, signifying that they were holding no weapons. Though, if arms-bearing was commonplace back then, one has to wonder why our greeting never evolved into one party getting down on their knees with their hands on heads.
And then of course we throw in the kisses, the hugs, the awkward waves and everything else that goes with saying “hello”. Today’s level of social interaction between different cultures has never previously been seen in human history, and at some stage we’re all left in limbo when introduced to a stranger, particularly of the opposite sex:
‘Is it a faux pas to shake a woman’s hand? Probably, and anyway she’ll think I’m cold. Perhaps I could turn on some continental charm with a couple of kisses? Then again, not sure how many to give, and I wouldn’t want to come across as camp. I could even casually nod upwards, à la Jay-Z, but I’m white and almost definitely not cool enough to pull it off convincingly. Oh well…guess I’ll just play it safe with a smile and a mini-wave.’
There’s a lot to be said for countries that have unwritten rules telling what you must and must not do when greeting a person. A handshake between two men and a single kiss on a woman’s right cheek seems sensible to me. But it’s something that is obviously a cause of anxiety worldwide – in fact, if you type ‘How do I greet’ into Google, the search engine will give you the following popular suggestions:
‘How do I greet a Muslim’
‘How do I greet a girl’
‘How do I greet my date’
‘How do I greet thee’
OK, so I’m not sure where that last one came from, but you get the point. First impressions are undoubtedly important, and we all fear that the impression we give may be one of a socially-aloof, standoffish kind of person. For many of us I suppose this may well be true but, still, let’s at least delay the truth a little longer.
‘Why the hell did I wave at thee from half-a-metre away?! Feel like a cretin. Note to self: never again consult Google for social guidance.’