Business greetings: Shake hands, kiss cheek(s) or make smacky noise in the air?

One effect of globalization: learning whether to shake hands, kiss, or kiss-kiss-kiss when greeting a business associate from outside the U.S. “With so many national customs involved, ordinary office greetings require savoir-faire,” says Wall Street Journal writer Christina Binkley ( 27 March 2008 ) .

There was a time when business acquaintances did not kiss lightly on our side of the Atlantic. Close friends and family, maybe — but one didn’t peck her investment banker on the cheek or buss his Congresswoman. Social greetings are evolving, though, and are becoming more complicated with globalization.

Whatever happened to shaking hands? There is something so American about the firm control of a handshake — it’s about disarming one’s opponent and keeping him two feet at bay. Control is in our DNA. This is why travel guides must spell the social kiss out for us: In France, generally two cheeks, or four, no lips; in parts of Belgium, three cheeks, and so on.

Still, raise the subject and a blush-worthy anecdote is sure to follow. “Much of the confusion comes because each participant assumes he or she is choosing the type of social kiss to be performed, and the two choices don’t match,” writes Judith Martin, a.k.a. Miss Manners, in her “Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior — Freshly Updated.”

Miss Manners says to kiss the right cheek first. “The first presenter gets to choose whether they will actually kiss each other’s cheeks, make a smack-smack noise in the air, or simply bump cheeks,” she writes. “The partner’s job is still to be alert in order to follow suit….” More rules are here (in a sidebar).

And, in case you were wondering, the rule is “no frontal hugs” in business settings. Major faux pas.

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One thought on “Business greetings: Shake hands, kiss cheek(s) or make smacky noise in the air?

  1. That’s so true! Every two days I get confronted with those funny situations; ‘what are we going to do now?’

    There’s even a funny quest about it by Extremis, a renowned Belgian design company promoting ‘togetherness’. They ask people to find ‘the official Extremis kiss’.
    This is the link, quite amusing: http://www.extremis.be/EXTREMIS_togetherness/EXTREMIS_kiss.html

    Now let us hope they can save the world from these common odd situations!

    Cheers and kiss or something,
    or kiss-kiss-kiss in my case (from Belgium)
    Bram Van Acker

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