Modern Etiquette: Different cultures have different greetings

Mon Aug 6, 2012 3:45pm EDT
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By Mary M. Mitchell

SEATTLE (Reuters) - My friend and sculling coach Gabi Cipollone won her first Olympic gold medal as a teenager from East Germany in Montreal back in 1976.

Four years later in Moscow, she won her second, barely having recovered from back surgery. What's more, her first Olympic race made sports history as the first year women were allowed to compete in sculling events. Awesome, isn't it?

I once asked Gabi what it was like to participate in the Games. Surely she'd tell me about the intensity of competition; the pressure to perform; and the thrill of just being an Olympian, win or lose.

Wrong. Gabi's quick reply was: "I'd never seen Chinese food before; or people from India, South Africa, or Bermuda." All of a sudden the world seemed overwhelmingly huge, and it was all contained in a few buildings at Olympic Village.

"Wait until after your race to try your first hamburger," her coach cautioned. The world of culinary adventure would have to wait. But meeting new people from other nations certainly could not. That, too, proved to be quite an adventure.

The first instinct for many North Americans, whether athletes or businesspeople, when greeting someone is to stick out our hand, look directly at the other person, and smile.

Unfortunately, in some situations, this could mean making three mistakes all at once. Methods and styles of greeting vary greatly around the world, as do dining customs, and it is important to know what is expected in differing circumstances.

After all, it's the moment of greeting when crucial first impressions are made.   Continued...