Handshakes from Around the World

Handshakes from Around the World

By: coopcom
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Handshakes Around the World

Handshakes from Around the World

Sharon Roberts | Program Assistant, Work Integrated Learning

As a student exploring the world of work, you have probably practiced and mastered the typical “Canadian” handshake, one of the cornerstones of making a good first impression. But as international travel, work and study opportunities abound for SFU students, you may be left wondering if this is a custom that all cultures share. Keep reading for tips on how to make a good first impression on your travels. Some of the customs may surprise you!

When aiming to make a good first impression on your adventures abroad, showing your business associates that you have done your homework will go along way in expressing a genuine interest and respect for their culture. Being familiar with local greetings often lies in the subtleties of the interactions, so be meticulous, and don’t rely on popular stereotypes.

It can be valuable to pay extra attention to your hosts. Follow their lead as they are most likely to set an example of appropriate behaviour for the situation. Some important things to be mindful of are handshake length and timing, eye contact, physical contact and body language such as bows, posture, eye contact and respect of personal space.

Light kisses on the cheek are customary in many European countries, although subtleties should also be observed. In Belgium, it is expected that everyone in the party shake hands upon meeting for the first time and when leaving a meeting. Kissing on the cheeks, usually three kisses on alternating cheeks, is also a common custom, even when meeting someone for the first time. As this does not always happen in work situations, as a visitor, you should wait for a cue from others.

France and the UK practice a similar handshake to North America. A kiss on each cheek is a common gesture in France exchanged between family and friends upon greeting. But unlike Belgium, this tradition is reserved for social situations.

NA greeting

It is taught in North America that a firm handshake expresses confidence and professionalism. While in South Africa it is also customary to shake hands at the beginning and end of a meeting, the handshakes are longer, more involved, and generally softer. The force with which a handshake is returned should be based on the force with which it was received.

Austrians greet each other with lots of handshaking, even with children. Men stand up to shake women’s hands, but a woman stays seated when the man shakes her hand.

In Switzerland , one should remember to shake the women’s hands first! Otherwise, shaking hands in order of rank is appropriate.

Physical contact is an important element of communication in Brazil and visitors should not be alarmed or intimidated by this. As in most Latin cultures, a firm and enthusiastic handshake is customary among men, often followed by a slap on the shoulder or squeeze of the upper arm. When women meet they will normally kiss each other on the cheek (one kiss on the left cheek) and/or give a light hug. Men are also expected to greet women with a kiss, although Brazilians may forgo this with foreigners so as not to make the visitor feel uncomfortable.

Despite their outgoing nature, physical contact in a work setting is rare between Australians. It is appropriate to greet business associates with a smile and a firm handshake. Frequent, direct eye contact is also important to maintain an atmosphere of trust.In Japan , greetings may include a handshake or a traditional Japanese bow. If greeted with a bow, the visitor should observe the depth of the bow and reciprocate in a like manner, keeping eyes lowered and hands to the sides. Allow the Japanese to initiate the handshake, and expect it be less firm than most countries.

The standard greeting in most of the larger cities in China is a light handshake; however, the nod is still a standard form of greeting in many Chinese cities. Bowing is seldom used except for ceremonies. Some Chinese will look others in the eyes, while some will not. Lowering of the eyes is considered a sign of respect. Direct eye contact may be considered too personal or even rude.South Koreans have variable customs depending who initiates the greeting. Typically, a junior person will initiate a bow, while a senior person will initiate a handshake. It is a sign of respect to grasp the right arm with the left hand when shaking hands, but physical contact beyond this is reserved for family and friends.


And as a Vancouverite, you may be familiar with the buzz word “namaste” that is used by our popular yoga culture. But where does that come from? Why India of course! When meeting someone in India, the word "namaste" accompanied with the palms joined together as in prayer is appreciated. The word "namaste" means literally, "I honor the spirit in you." In a business setting, a senior person will typically initiate a handshake.

Some basic etiquette on international greetings will go along way towards making an excellent first impression in your new work environment, plus prepare you for any customs that are not familiar to you. Remember, observe subtleties, and when in doubt, look to your host to set an example.

Posted on November 18, 2010