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Multicultural differences in greetings you need to be aware of.

 by Susan Dunn

Multiculturalism is a reality both at home and for those of us who do business globally. For those in the UK and other parts of the world worrying about immigration, we should remember that the US has more legal immigrants yearly than all the other countries in the world combined. Also there are vast cultural differences even between "native" Americans living in the US for several generations, as you know if you've done business with a New Yorker (better be quick!) or bi'ness with a Texan (better stand at a 90% angle to your male companion).

Culture is not ethnic or racial. It is learned and of course each culture is different. Treat everyone like a unique individual, as you would like to be treated, don't get hung up on stereotypes, and develop your emotional intelligence so you can be more intuitive about how to communicate with, negotiate with, and provide services and products for people from cultural backgrounds other than your own.

1. In South Texas, if you're talking to a male, they will stand at a 90% angle to you. If you move to reorient, a "dance" will begin. This is a markedly non-intimate position (macho), and often the eyes are cast down at the floor or out across the floor, not at the other party. South Texans generally say "Pleased to know you," while Mid Westerners say, "Pleased to meet you" or "Pleased to make your acquaintance." More from San Antonio, Texas - in a strictly social setting, it's not customary to shake hands with women. In society, there's the haute hug - two women will parody a hug with no part of their body touching, just tapping each other on the back. Often with an older, respected person, or to express affection with respect, you shake hands, then cover their and your hands with your left hand, patting or stroking while maintaining eye contact.

2. Be aware that most of the world does not greet by shaking hands.

3. People from Asian cultures bow in greeting, but the bows are different.

  • People from Cambodia and Laos will often bow with both hands together in front of the chest as if praying.
  • In Japan, the depth of the bow signifies the level of respect for the other party.
  • Many Koreans prefer bowing and if they shake hands, the right hand is supported at the wrist by the left hand to show respect.
  • Thais bow with palms together about chest-high with their fingers outstretched. And, there are exceptions.
  • The Taiwanese usually nod the head in recognition rather than bow.

4. Some cultures naturally greet by hugging.

  • Native Hawaiians hug each other, exchanging breaths. The custom is called "aha". Ancient Hawaiians, incidentally, actually bumped heads together.
  • Mexicans use the abrazo.

5. Some cultures kiss!

  • If your Cuban male client kisses you on the cheek, you know you've made the short list.
  • Immigrant men from the Middle East often shake hands with a slight nod or bow and then exchange kisses on both cheeks. Men from that country usually don't shake hands with women, nor do they introduce the woman with them. Do not attempt to shake hands with a Middle Eastern woman unless -- and here's where the EQ comes in -- she extends her hand.
  • Men in Eastern Europe, Portugal, Spain and Italy will often kiss male friends on the cheek.

6. Pakistanis (largely Muslims) greet with salaam which is the equivalent of our "hello". The salaam is done by bowing with the palm of the right hand on the forehead. Salaam means "peace" or "Peace be with you."

7. Postures also have meaning. Ready to settle in with your Middle Eastern client? As an American, you're likely most comfortable sitting back in your chair and crossing your legs. Well, don't! In the Middle East, one of the most insulting things you can do is sit with your legs crossed so the bottom of your foot is pointed in the other person's direction. The foot is the dirtiest part of the body and the sole of the shoe is the dirtiest of the low. To show someone the bottom of your foot means you're looking for a fight!

8. Even hand-shaking cultures such as England, France, Germany, Italy and the US do it differently.

  • Brits prefer a brief but firm handshake.
  • The French prefer a light grip while sharing one gentle single shake that is quickly withdrawn.
  • Germans will give a very firm handshake -- just one "pump" then quick withdrawal. More than one shake with Germans or French is considered aggressive.
  • Italians will shake hands and then hug friends or kiss them on both cheeks.
  • In many southern US states, it is not customary to shake hands with women.

9. Bear in mind the other person may be trying to accommodate to your culture, so don't assume they will use their traditional greeting. For example, if you start first, for instance bowing, and then see a hand extended for a shake, and switch to that, the other person will then have switched to a bow and this becomes awkward. For many cultures such "awkwardness" will kill the deal early on.

10. Greetings are critical first moves in relationships. Begin with a polite word or two, such as "Mr. And Mrs. Taekwondo, it's so nice to meet you at last," and then hesitate for a moment to see what they want to do and are comfortable with. Then mirror their gesture, be it bow, hand shake, abrazo (hug) or nothing! Use your intuition! When in doubt, err on the side of conservatism.

(c)Susan Dunn, The EQ Coach,

http://www.susandunn.cc . Individual and executive coaching in emotional intelligence. EQ culture programs for organizations. Distance learning. EQ Alive!- http://www.eqcoach.net - train to coach emotional intelligence, classes start monthly.

Mailto:sdunn@susandunn.cc for FREE ezine.