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Meeting and Greeting In Different Countries: Handshakes, Kisses and Bows.

written by: Rebecca Scudder • edited by: Laurie Patsalides • updated: 2/8/2012

Don't put your foot in by using the wrong form of greeting. Learn how to behave correctly in Germany, Spain and Japan.

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    Shake Hands in Germany

    The most common greeting ceremony in Germany is the handshake. People of both genders, whether they meet in a business situation or on a social occasion, shake hands. It's considered an insult not to shake a hand that's extended to you. It's equally impolite, and even more so in Eastern European countries, to shake hands with your glove on. The handshake should be brief and firm. A limp handshake can be construed as a sign of spinelessness and weakness.

    Older men, particularly in Austria, often still follow the tradition of a hand kiss when greeting a woman. It should be accepted gracefully as a sign of esteem and respect and never should the hand be withdrawn. On the other hand, a hand kiss is properly executed without the lips touching the skin at all.

    The habit of shaking hands is age old. Its origin is said to be a sign of peaceful approach and to show the person greeted, that the greeter is not armed.

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    Kisses in Spain

    Mediterranean people generally are by nature spontaneous and warm. That's reflected in their habit of kissing both cheeks on greeting. It doesn't matter if you know the person you kiss or if you meet them for the first time. Introductions are made, more often than not by first name only, and kisses are exchanged. The exceptions are formal encounters, like entering an office or meeting very high ranked people. You don't kiss your attorney's secretary nor do you kiss the King.

    Women kiss women, men kiss women but rarely do men kiss men, except when they are close family members and one is older than the other. Spanish kisses are somewhere between an air kiss and a full blown kiss. Lips just touch the cheek, first left, then right. Sometimes the kissing extends to three. If you are unfamiliar or unsure about the habit, just watch what the others do, then imitate. If you are uncomfortable with it, that's just too bad. It would be extremely insulting not to go along.

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    Bows in Japan

    No kisses or handshakes are exchanged in Japan. Bowing to each other is the usual form of greeting. The degree of depth of the bow is a fine art, which expresses the importance of the person bowed to or the esteem one holds for them. The bow ranges from a simple nod to a deep bow executed from the waist. Europeans fare best with a slight bow. A nodding of the head in Japan also expresses an apology or a thank you.

    Whichever culture you move in, familiarize yourself with greeting habits beforehand, then go with the flow, and you will be off to a good start. To be on the safe side, never initiate a greeting when you are unsure what to do. Wait to see what greeting is given to you, and then reciprocate.