Don't get me wrong, I love meeting new people. Especially in an environment as diverse as Europe which welcomes every second a multitude of different nationalities. There is however a certain inkling of uncertainty that tugs at the roots of my awkward New Zealand upbringing when meeting somebody of an unfamiliar nationality. How do we greet in a culturally neutral way without looking and feeling like fucking idiots?
So this girl is French right? And I'm pretty eager to make a good impression. So I rock on in with the smoothness of David Hasselhoff for the 'three kiss' greeting I've been tuning in the Netherlands for the last five months right? Wrong. One peck in and she's pulling back already but it's too late and I've already gone in for the kill and I land an uncoordinated smooch on her nose and we both pull back and blush and everybody looks at us like we're idiots.
I learnt on that day three things. One: You greet a French woman with one kiss on the cheek, not three, two: I needed to learn more about how to greet people from different nationalities and three: that it be top priority to share my learning's with YOU. So you, yes YOU never have to fist bump a handshake again. So you'll find below a bunch of handy tips and tricks for the six most common nationalities I've come across that'll have you hitting Europe with the finesse of a Volkswagon (sorry Germany).
Dutch give three kisses on the cheek when they greet. The general rule for these kisses is that women are expected to kiss women and men on each cheek, first one side, then the other, then back again to the first cheek, in a sort of quick chicken pecking motion. This is generally expected among friends and family. Men are expected to give this greeting to women, but not with other men. For men, a simple, firm handshake with a direct look in the eye will usually suffice.
If kissing is awkward for you, remember that hugging is equally awkward for French people. If you’re a woman, you usually kiss friends, family members and sometimes acquaintances. If you’re a man you only kiss people of the opposite sex. And it's one kiss. Just one. Not three. Alternatively you can shake hands or say "Bonjour."
When a male greets a female or when a female greets a female, they will softly touch both arms while moving their bodies to about 6 inches apart, then they cock their heads, put their cheeks together, and make a small kissing sound. Their lips don’t make any contact. This will only take about 1 or 2 seconds. Visualize it. Hell, practice with your teddy bear. Or your mum. For men greeting men, in most areas, it is completely customary to give each other a hug.
With Italians, cheek kissing is reserved for greeting people you know well and is less common among men. To avoid bumping noses, the rule is to kiss left cheek first and then the right. When you meet someone for the first time, handshakes are much more common. As you get to know the other person, you move more into cheek-kissing territory.
They're production optimization orientated and don't tend to fuck around with kisses. You can't go wrong offering a German a firm handshake and it's never seen as offensive. There might be people rejecting this offer of yours, but that usually indicates issues of their own. Also make sure that you put your breakfast to good use and apply some pressure son! You'll come across as timid of you don't.
Last but certainly not least, the British. A plain and simple handshake is the most common form of greeting among the British and is customary when you are introduced to somebody new. It is only when you meet friends, whom you haven't seen for a long time, that you would kiss the cheek of the opposite sex.
So now you're a small step closer to being slightly remotely equipped to hit Europe the way mama intended. Happy travels.
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