Taking things abroad: Hello!

By Erin Frick

Contributing Writer

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013

When you meet someone for the first time, what is your standard greeting? This isn’t something you probably spend excess time thinking about, but if you plan on traveling abroad, you should. Speaking for myself, usually a hand wave—or a handshake if it’s a professional setting—is sufficient for an introduction to a new person.

 

As time goes by, depending on if it’s a new male or female friend, we may upgrade to a high five or fist bump. Then weeks or so later, when we become really good friends, a quick hug serves as hello. For most guys out there, the steps leading up to a “bro-hug” (the hand clasp, pull in to smack on the back, and release) can take even longer.  When you think about it, most greetings here at home aren’t too personal, so naturally when I was living abroad a simple social norm like saying hello to a new person was completely different.

 

Most of my Spaniard friends laughed a bit at the way we say hello, without any physical contact. A standard greeting in Spain and in most other European countries (in my experience) is for each person to introduce himself or herself, hug and kiss both cheeks. Personally I am not a big touchy-feely person, so this kind of greeting was a huge adjustment for me. Even when I met a whole group of people at once, I was expected to hug and kiss the cheeks of every single individual. The largest group I ever had to introduce myself to was 15-20 people! This greeting applies when you meet up with your friends later on as well; it’s not just a first time meeting custom.

 

After a few weeks, I became used to the greeting but it’s just funny how many personal space boundaries exist in our culture as opposed when you are abroad, where your personal space is not something sacred to you, and people are more intimate with each other in everyday greetings. Whether or not one way has more advantages or disadvantages than the other I cannot say, but it does serve as an interesting and funny distinction between our cultures.

 

Americans aren’t the only ones who experience this change. If you get the chance, search “teaching American greetings to abroad students” on YouTube. This video is of a class of international students who are going to study abroad in America being taught the American greeting methods. It’s hysterical to watch and see our greetings from this point of view, because you wouldn’t think something simple as saying hello could take on so many different roles. The only differing factor is where you are in the world at any given time, and just go along with the culture!

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