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Handshakes (non-verbal speech)
Thread poster: Lingua 5B

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 14:37
German to Serbian
+ ...
Apr 3, 2016

Hope this is the right forum to place the topic. It's still related to intercultural communication, just the non-verbal kind.

I was wondering how common handshakes are in your country/culture? I am mostly referring to informal settings (family, friends, hang outs etc), but we can also discuss business setting (I believe they are more common in this kind of setting across different cultures).

In my country, it is common to shake hands when you are first being introduced to someone (even in informal setting). Or when wishing congrats to someone. From what I gathered in some European countries it is weird to shake hands when being introduced to someone in informal setting, what about Asia?

I would appreciate some feedback from you on this topic...


 

Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 18:07
English to Hindi
+ ...
Namaste Apr 3, 2016

In Indian culture, we say Namaste or Namaskar, and at the same time bring both our palms together and raise them chest high, and at the same time slightly bow towards the person being addressed. The word Namaste and Namaskar, mean I greet you.

This is done both at the time of meeting a person and at the time of taking leave from him.

The origin of the hand shake as well as the Namaste gesture is probably the same. As explained by Desmond Morris in his books the Naked Ape and Man-watching, this gesture was a conciliatory signal indicating that you are not carrying any arms in your hands and therefore there is nothing to fear from you.

In both the Namaste and the hand shake, you expose your hand to the person who can visually ascertain that you are indeed unarmed.

The Muslims of the subcontinent have a slightly different version, they raise the right hand only chest high with fingers held close together and slightly curved toward the chest and say various greeting phrases like Aadab, Khair Mukaddam, Khuda Hafiz (or Allah Hafiz these days in Pakistan). The last is usually said while taking leave of the person. They also bow slightly towards the person.

This too exposes the arm-weilding hand and allows the other person to verify that you are not holding any weapon in your hand.

The youngsters have their own uncouth and brusque ways of addressing each other which are too many to enumerate here, and since I no longer fall in their category, I may not even be aware of all the cultural forms that these take.

As for the handshake, it is used in formal meetings by westernized Indians, particularly in the urban centres. But it is a very much foreign behavioural practice, and is common only in a very narrow setting.

Also it is gender-sensitive. People of the same gender may go for a hand-shake, but when it involves a person of a different gender, they would hesitate, and would relapse into the safe and traditional namaste. For example, a man may readily shake hands with another man, but would not shake hands with his (the second man's!) wife, whom he would greet with a namaste.

[Edited at 2016-04-03 13:37 GMT]


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 14:37
German to Serbian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks, interesting... Apr 3, 2016

That means if someone reached to shake hands in India, it would be seen as weird? I presumed it was less present in Asia, of course.

The only gender handshaking rule here I can remember at this point, is the woman should be the first to reach/initiate the handshake and also the older person of the two should initiate it. If nobody initiates it, it will not happen, of courseicon_biggrin.gif. But of course this rule is not always followed, someone can enter a room and shake hands with everyone in the room, just because they feel like it lol (informal setting)


 

Ricki Farn
Germany
Local time: 14:37
Member (2005)
English to German
Shake, shake, shake Apr 4, 2016

Bala, many Europeans perceive the Namaste gesture (the joined palms) as a submissive gesture and find it really hard to stay calm. Well, the best thing for us is to imitate it, to avoid feeling like an antique colonizer being greeted by an antique colonized!

To reply to the OP, in Germany, people shake hands in a business context or when meeting remote acquaintances at church. Not to say hello to a buddy, although a brofist, high five or "black handshake" might be used - and whoops, racism again (but I don't know another word for this), what a fraught subject!


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 14:37
German to Serbian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Yes, indeed... Apr 4, 2016

Ricki Farn wrote:

Bala, many Europeans perceive the Namaste gesture (the joined palms) as a submissive gesture and find it really hard to stay calm. Well, the best thing for us is to imitate it, to avoid feeling like an antique colonizer being greeted by an antique colonized!

To reply to the OP, in Germany, people shake hands in a business context or when meeting remote acquaintances at church. Not to say hello to a buddy, although a brofist, high five or "black handshake" might be used - and whoops, racism again (but I don't know another word for this), what a fraught subject!


I noticed this in Germany and in the Netherlands... it looks like handshakes in informal setting may be a thing in Eastern Europe (just my assumption). I will not shake hands with a friend, but probably if being introduced to someone for the first time in a semi-informal setting, or when entering a room where there are unknown people... I'd say over here it is optional, while in some European countries it does not exist at all (minus the business setting)


 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 14:37
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
I wish Europeans would use Namaste! Apr 4, 2016

I am at a loss at gatherings of colleagues and remote family - some go for hugs and one or two kisses on the cheek - which I regard as far too intimate on many occasions. But increasingly common in some groups (Scandinavia - my English-Scottish family keep to quick hugs for the closest and nice smiles from nephews and their girlfriends).

Visiting India with an informal group last year, and sometimes getting off the beaten tourist track with special guides, the Namaste was pleasant - and hygienic!

Of course I knew it as a child, so I have never perceived it as subordinate in itself, although as the child or the foreigner asking for help, it might be very respectful on my part!

But I know it is never going to happen.


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 14:37
German to Serbian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I also like Namastes Apr 4, 2016

They make you feel somehow peaceful when you engage in them.

 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 14:37
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
I agree Apr 4, 2016

Namasté (which I was told meant "I salute the god in you" btw) is indeed a lovely greeting.

I hate shaking hands, they can be sweaty or too firm or too floppy.
I once committed the faux pas of holding out my hand to a very devout Muslim. I had thought it would be better than kissing him. He recoiled at the sight of my outstretched hand, and I felt the rejection very keenly. I was trying hard to be respectful since I was at my in-laws' house, but ended up retreating to my bedroom until he had gone.

As a Brit, I dislike kissing people unless I know them well. I do try, since I'm in France. When the French find themselves having to kiss someone against their will because of the social setting, they kiss the air by the other person's cheek rather than actually kiss the person, which I hate just as much as a floppy handshake.

Why would Namasté be perceived as a form of submission? if people greeting each other both do it, they're on the same level. I have noticed that Westerners find it hard to bow their head, possibly because you can't see the other person as you do so. It takes trust. But there's no touching involved, so it's suitable for all occasions.


 

Jennifer Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:37
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Mwah mwah Apr 4, 2016

Yes, a somewhat fraught subject!
It used to be customary in the UK to shake hands with someone when first introduced, but not (usually) thereafter. When I first went to France as a teenager, staying with a French family, I was amazed to find that all family members shook hands with one another (and me) every morning. Does this still go on? It seems to have been replaced by the cheek kiss, often two or even three kisses, and often to and from people one scarcely knows (of both sexes). This has now been widely adopted in the UK, or is sometimes replaced or accompanied by the noise "mwah mwah". How terribly un-British! ☺ I blame our (fraught) membership of the EU ...
I'm never sure (in France) how many cheek kisses are expected or which side to start. This can result in bumping noses - somewhat more New Zealandish, perhaps?


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:37
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Can't work it out Apr 4, 2016

Having lived in Italy for half my life, it comes naturally to me to touch my fellow human beings in various ways and to expect them to touch me.

However now that I'm back in the UK, I've discovered that I cannot continue my Italian behaviour because the English don't understand it and they react badly.

Meantime, the English have decided they're going to be Continental but they don't quite know how to do it, and some of the consequences are disgusting, such as kissing someone on both cheeks the first time you ever meet them.

I used to treat my English friends in my Italian way but I kept noticing that they didn't like it so I have reverted to the standard English practice of never touching, kissing, or embracing anybody unless you know them very well and even then, probably not.

Thankfully here in multiicultural NW London, there are lots of non-English people with whom one can interact normally.

[Edited at 2016-04-04 13:03 GMT]


 

DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
in Ukraine Apr 4, 2016

As far as I remember, it's ok to shake hands and hug your people, ok to shake hands with new people and business partners (mostly except business-ladies, unless she was the first to hold her hand), whereas
hugs are either for intimate people or intimate events (weddings, children, promotions, deals, funerals et cetera).

Nowadays, a woman has the right--I mean--still can hug another woman; no insult.
As for men (unless it's a sham or a prank), hugging men would be surely democratically considered either gays, or politicians--at worst...

Culture- and self-awareness is a big deal, for I felt really awkward when my friend's teen daughter, who had been a year in France, kept kissing me hello not only with my people, but also in public.


 

Melanie Meyer  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:37
Member (2010)
English to German
+ ...
Shaking hands in Germany and America Apr 4, 2016

Shaking hands seems to be very widely used in Germany (not necessarily amongst very young people, but pretty much everybody else: female, male, family events, private settings, business settings, you name it), unless it has changed since I moved away 10 years ago.

When a bunch of my husband's (American) relatives came to attend our wedding in Germany, my parents, especially my Mom, were confused and even insulted, because they weren't aware that in America, the woman is supposed to offer her hand first in order for it to be shaken. Neither did the visiting Americans know that handshaking was very much expected amongst Germans of both genders.

The end result was that none of the Americans ended up shaking my Mom's hand and she (and my Dad) thought they were all being quite rude! This remained a topic in my family for months and years to follow and none of my explanations seemed to ever be enough to iron out that cultural misunderstanding.


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 14:37
German to Serbian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Floppy hands are worse than kissing the air... Apr 4, 2016

Texte Style wrote:

Namasté (which I was told meant "I salute the god in you" btw) is indeed a lovely greeting.

I hate shaking hands, they can be sweaty or too firm or too floppy.
I once committed the faux pas of holding out my hand to a very devout Muslim. I had thought it would be better than kissing him. He recoiled at the sight of my outstretched hand, and I felt the rejection very keenly. I was trying hard to be respectful since I was at my in-laws' house, but ended up retreating to my bedroom until he had gone.

As a Brit, I dislike kissing people unless I know them well. I do try, since I'm in France. When the French find themselves having to kiss someone against their will because of the social setting, they kiss the air by the other person's cheek rather than actually kiss the person, which I hate just as much as a floppy handshake.

Why would Namasté be perceived as a form of submission? if people greeting each other both do it, they're on the same level. I have noticed that Westerners find it hard to bow their head, possibly because you can't see the other person as you do so. It takes trust. But there's no touching involved, so it's suitable for all occasions.


They say you can tell more about a person by shaking their hands or looking them in the eyes, than by anything else (the two things we are deprived of when interacting with clients/people online).

But I encountered all the situations you are describing. I saw French often kissing the air, but when I shook hands with a person and it felt all floppy and "pale" and no energy and no trust in that handshake, it was disgusting, I will never forget it!

Over here, people sometimes overdo it. For instance, at a wedding, the bride and groom will do the cheek kisses and handshakes with everyone at the wedding (say 300 people)... Now that's not always the case, but if they decide to do it, it will be done. Say there are 500 guests at your wedding?!

When I try to do a Namaste, it just feels peaceful, not submissive (those are two completely different things).

And it's an old story that southern people (in this case continental) have shorter personal distance and they have less problems with body contact. I saw it in some European countries, hugs, kisses, etc not a problem, but they rarely shake hands.


 

Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 18:07
English to Hindi
+ ...
It is an all purpose greeting Apr 4, 2016

Ricki Farn wrote:

Bala, many Europeans perceive the Namaste gesture (the joined palms) as a submissive gesture and find it really hard to stay calm. Well, the best thing for us is to imitate it, to avoid feeling like an antique colonizer being greeted by an antique colonized!


The namaste is actually a safe, non-comittal, all-purpose greeting. It is not necessarily submissive, I am not sure how you got this impression. Like all cultural gestures, only those within the culture can really employ these gestures in a proper way. So I can understand Westerners feeling uncomfortable in using the namaste for they would always have the nagging doubt whether they are doing it correctly or whether they are making a faux pas.

Usually, both parties involved in the greeting respond in the same way, so there is no submission from either end.

Another aspect of the namaste is that it is hygienic, as noted by others. As no touching is involved, there is no transfer of disease-causing germs or dirt either!


 

Ricki Farn
Germany
Local time: 14:37
Member (2005)
English to German
Why the "submissive" feel Apr 13, 2016

Balasubramaniam L. wrote:
The namaste is actually a safe, non-comittal, all-purpose greeting. It is not necessarily submissive, I am not sure how you got this impression.


Wild guess, because it resembles a Western praying gesture
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Praying_Hands_(Dürer)
that might have entered people's subconscious.


 
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