Greetings at the workplace: Kiss, Bow, Or Shake Hands? (Guest Post by Vincent Merk, SIETAR Netherlands and Europa)

“Kiss, Bow, Or Shake Hands”, is actually the title of a book that reviews various business practices and forms of greetings  in about 60 countries. Needless to say, such general informative books are quickly outdated. But not so much when it comes to greeting practices, which tend to last longer. So what do you do at work in your respective culture?

Starting with the first days in January, how do you greet each other again after the holiday season and wish one another a happy new year? Probably not bowing if you live in Europe, only when showing utmost respect on special occasions based on religious or formal etiquette codes.

But now the tricky part: kiss or shake hands? Generally speaking, in northern Europe people are not physical communicators. They keep a clear distance between each other when speaking to one another, with very little physical contact. In comparison: two French people talking apparently touch each other about 110 times in one hour, while two English people hardly do it at all! More about that admirable French touching later…

So, in most cases, people in the north suffice with a (firm) handshake when you meet them in the first days of January. If you are in Holland, only relatives, friends and close colleagues will venture going for the kiss. How many times? Traditionally three times, starting the ritual on the left side. And beware… unlike in many other cultures, only women with women and women with men exchange kisses (so not men together).

People in other cultures have quite different habits in greetings at work, ranging from hardly any contact at all (much of Asia) to big abrazos in Latin  America.

Take the Belgians: they usually seal the encounter with just one kiss, which seems rather cold and distant for the physical French who produce between one to five kisses depending on the region.

Back to the Dutch: in general they face this greeting dilemma on two occasions: in early January and at birthdays throughout the year when congratulating the birthday boy or girl. Otherwise, it is a handshake, but only on formal occasions; so on a daily basis, no handshake, only a verbal greeting, unlike the French again, those notorious all-around hand shakers and comprehensive kissers.

Further Reading:

Vincent Merk is Senior Lecturer in intercultural management and community advisor at Eindhoven University of Technology. He also works as an independent trainer and consultant for international academic and business clients. He is the author of many articles on intercultural communication and management, and co-author of two books on doing business with the French. He also contributed to a chapter in the recent book “Intercultural Management – A Case-Based Approach to Achieving Complementarity and Synergy” (Macmillan Education, 2016). He served on the Board of Directors of SIETAR Europa (1995-1999), of which two years as president (1997-1999). He holds a double nationality French and Dutch and speaks French, Dutch, English, German and Spanish.
Desert in Abu Dhabi – Picture: Dr. Gertraud Kinne.
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