There are many forms of greeting and the styles vary significantly across social groups and cultures. Greeting entails kissing, shaking hands, bowing or even hugging. Whether you kiss, bow, or shake hands when you greet someone and bid him or her farewell, how you do so indicates your cultures attitude towards bodily contact. Greetings in some countries contain a standard practice which is to touch, whereas other cultures view touching as rude and highly intrusive. Some countries even forbid men and women from touching in public. Breaking these taboos can cause, if not international crisis, a major upset between the families. Many Arab customs and greetings are different from those of the West and the paper is going to look at the difference in relation to Saudi Arabian greeting.
Arab customs are different from those of the West and their most common greeting is ‘salam alaykum’ (peace be upon you). The reply to this question is ‘wa alaykum as-alam’ (and upon you be peace). “Additionally ‘tibsah ala-khayr,’ means ‘good night’ and it is always said on parting, just like in English and the expected reply is ‘wa inta min ahlu.”1 It is recommended that one shakes hands when greeting and parting from an Arab man, but for the women, their behaviour should guide you. This is because many Arab women will not shake hands with non Arab men, but in the current education systems, the educated women might shake hands.
The length of a handshake also matters in Saudi Arabia, if the handshake received when leaving somebody is longer than that received when meeting him, it is an indication that you made a good impression. It is customary to inquire of the person’s health and other matters after the handshake and it applies to men and not women. One should therefore expect questions from an Arab man and should never dare to enquire after the health of female members of an Arab family, however, the questions should be those restricted to questions regarding the family in general or sons. The exchange after greetings can take a long time as neither party wishes to be the one to draw matters to a close.
On the other hand, in Brazil, there are different forms of greeting brought about by the differences in language. “Language being an important element of the country’s national unity, Portuguese has been adopted and the culture surrounds uniform practises of the Portuguese. As a form of cultural greetings, women kiss other women on the cheeks and men and women also kiss each other on the cheeks or handshake”2. Men only shake hands with other men, but if they are very close friends, they will give each other a manly sort of a hug or tap each other’s back and sometimes they can greet with a gentle nodding of the head.
In all the greeting situations, unlike the Arabic words, the Brazilians use: ‘oi, tudo bem (how are you), oi, prazer (pleased to meet you), e ai, beleza (used if you already know the person)’ The only exceptions are some members of Amerindian groups and pockets of immigrants, primarily from Japan and South Korea, who have not yet learned Portuguese2. A tricky part comes in when knowing how many kisses on the cheeks. This depends on the region, but you should always start by kissing right to left, but for the French, they start with their left. This makes the Brazilian-French kissing greeting very embarrassing. Consequently, kissing on the lips of someone you have just met is seriously embarrassing.
Greetings mostly go with the flow and some times one might not know whether they have kissed once or twice since you just flow with the situation. Sometimes people go for the second kiss when the other person was not waiting for it and it becomes awkward. In some Brazilian towns people even give three kisses and they have developed a saying for kisses which goes “tres pra casar,” meaning three kisses give you luck to get married in future1. It is therefore polite in Brazil to offer your hand for a handshake regardless if it is a man or a woman.
Greeting in France takes a different cause and in case you have made friends with a French person, you should expect her to kiss your cheeks three times when you say hello and goodbye. On the other hand, in Brazil, upon greetings and departure, the customs is to shake hands with everyone resent in a group. Once a friendship has been established, expect to be embraced. Women alone according to Brazilian culture, exchange kisses on alternate cheeks a number of times depending on various circumstances, twice if they are married and three times if they are single. “The third kiss is to ensure “good luck” in finding a spouse. Mexican people as most Latin countries tend to be considered warm people and therefore one kiss on the cheek is the usual greeting between women and between persons of opposite sex. Men don’t kiss other men except in for fathers and grandfathers”1.
Greeting someone in Mexico entails a common shaking of hands with men and women that a person has just met. Women consequently might greet men or women with a kiss on the cheek. Since social life is a key aspect of Mexico City life and them being social by nature, they have different forms of greetings since they meet in restaurants, bars, and nightclubs reflect that. Mexicans regard relationships and friendships as the most important thing in life next to religion and therefore have intimate greeting procedure and are not afraid to show their emotions. Mexicans have many other ways in which people greet and further subtleties around the actions above, including; touching or raising a hat, pressing or rubbing noses, touching or pressing bodies together in certain places and ways, moving the body through a defined locus, giving of gifts, and touching palms or fists
On the contrary, when waving farewell, a simple act of waving is not always so simple, what one may think is a simple wave may be interpreted as an offensive gesture. In Europe, people face up their palm front and wag their fingers up and down with their arms stretched forwards and held stationary. Americans hold their alms forward with their arms outstretched and wave their hand back and forth from side to side. Throughout most of the Europe this gesture would be interpreted as “no” except in Greece, where the gesture is highly insulting and you can easily find yourself pleading innocence to the local authorities.
In Middle East and Gulf States, touching upon greeting is common you only need to wait for your counterpart to initiate the exchange since several styles are used. In Saudi Arabia which is our main focus, one should be prepared to go through an elaborate greeting ritual with another person. Although a Westernised Saudi man shakes hands with another man, the customary Saudi greetings between men is a more complicated affair. After saying the traditional “salaam alaykum” you shake hands and say “kaif halak”, then you and the Saudi counterpart put your hands on the other’s right shoulders and kiss one another on each cheek2. Finally, your new found friend takes your hand on in his. On the contrary if you are a woman, there should be no bodily contact involved at all. Women should not therefore expect to be offered a hand.