Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands?
Some general guidelines on greetings and terms of address
By Terri Morrison
© Copyright 2004, All Rights Reserved
Businessmen in the United States and Britain rarely have to endure a kiss on
each cheek from another man. Even in countries where such greetings are common
(Italy and Russia, for example), a kiss is generally reserved for relatives or
good friends. A foreign businessman will have to do a lot of
relationship-building to reach the point at which he is greeted with a kiss.
When that happens, the easiest thing to do is to stay still and let the
kiss-initiating person move his head. Otherwise your noses may collide!
In Asia, Westerners rarely master all the intricacies of a bow. The basics
usually suffice: bow from the waist, and the person with the lower status bows
more deeply. When greeting Westerners, many Asians follow a bow with a
As any politician can attest, strong handshakes can hurt. North Americans
and Australians should moderate their strong handshakes overseas. Many Asians
who do shake hands actually perform a hand-clasp, with no pressure and very
little pumping. To give emphasis to a handshake, it is permissible for each
person to place their left hand over their clasped hands.
Forms of address
There are very few countries in which businesspeople address each other by
first names after a short time. In Germany and Switzerland, for example, even
longstanding business partners may choose to address each other by their
surnames. North Americans commonly use first names, and are notorious for
losing credibility by using first names overseas.
Degrees of politeness
Some Asian languages have several degrees of politeness. To know which level to
use, Asians need to know their counterpart's standing in society. Hence they
often ask very personal questions of foreigners, such as how much they earn or
how many employees they supervise, to determine the level of politeness
required. If you find such questions too personal, simply decline to answer, or
say that it is not something that is usually discussed in your culture.