Strange things that interest me:

Greetings from around the world

back to main page
programs Fun stuff for families schools reviews bio store

"How do you do?" ... "How do I do what?"

One thing that a traveler to another country notices is that the rules for saying hello are very complicated, and can be quite different than the way it is at home. When I've traveled, I've found it quite easy to get it wrong. So, in honor of World Hello Day, I snooped around a bit in the library and came up with a number of interesting -- and some quite odd -- ways that people greet each other.

Over much of the planet, people shake hands when they meet. In many other cultures, they also kiss. Some kiss on one cheek, some on both, yet others kiss three times! I've skipped over all that in my list, because I want to stretch us. Maybe you won't think some of these strange. Then again, maybe you think some of these greetings are really odd. But let's all try to keep an open mind. Agreed?

Let's shake on it.


Bangladesh -- one makes a relaxed salute with the right hand.

Benin -- young men often snap fingers when shaking hands

Botswana -- people touch hands, like a handshake that doesn't include a grip, just lightly grazing palms and fingers. They ask each other: "How did you wake?" (It's interesting, in our family, we often ask, "How did you sleep?")

Cambodia -- here, one would put your hands together like "praying hands" holding them against your chest. The higher you hold your hands, the more respect you show.

Bhutan -- they ask, "Is your body well?"

Central African Republic -- good friends slap rights hands, then grab each other's middle finger using a thumb and middle finger, then "snap" the other person's finger. Sounds painful, but I'd love to have someone show me how it's done.

Gabon -- show respect by shaking a person's hand with both hands

Georgia (no, not the state) -- their word for hello literally means, "Let you win". I wonder if that works with politicians?

Greece -- back-slapping takes the place of shaking hands in many greetings.

Grenada -- sometimes friends might tap clenched fists

Guam -- there is a Filipino tradition on Guam to put one's right knuckles against an older person's forehead. (This can't be where "knucklehead" comes from, can it?)

Iceland -- their simple greeting means "Happy".

Jamaica -- "Waapun" one might say. It's a squished version of "What's happening?"

Malawi -- (emailed from a reader): Among the Ngoni-Tumbuka people of Northern Malawi, one greets by either shaking hands and saying: " Mwauka uli?" Literally: How did you wake up? The positive response is: "tauka makora" Literally:  "We woke up well" (we is used as respect not numbers).
This can be accompanied by a handshake where the greeter's right hand shakes the other person's right hand but to show respect, the greeter would support the right hand on the list with the left hand, as if the right hand is too heavy to stand on its own in the handshake. if the person one is greeting is more respected, the greeter might ask "Mwauka uli?" while kneeling or tilting the knees a bit (if the greeter is a female) but if male, he might show a slight bow of his upper body.

Mauritania -- some of the Moorish background might greet you with "On you no evil"

Mauritius -- they cut right to the chase in some villages here. Their hello literally means, "Speak!"

Micronesia -- the Yapese people greet with "It was good."

Maldova -- some men might greet a woman by kissing her hand while saying, "I kiss your hand." Why? What else would he be doing? Looking to nibble on ladyfingers? Sorry... gotta keep an open mind.

Mongolia -- A reader writes that typical greetings are: "Hi How are you? How is the livestock? How is the living? How are the family members? People in the rural area exchange their snip bottle instead of pipes. Long time ago, people might have exchanged pipes. But nowadays, this gesture has been removed from the cultural greeting. People in Mongolia use the following gestures for their greetings:
- Hand shake
- Smile
- Hug
- Patting on the back
- Kiss /mostly female friends use this greeting. Usually they kiss the air/
During Lunar New Year, the older people kiss the younger ones on the cheek. They do not kiss the air.

Mozambique -- northern people clap hands three times before saying hello

Maori -- some press noses together while closing their eyes. I wonder how often noses bump that way.

Niger -- the Kanouri people shake a fist at head level and call "Wooshay! Wooshay!" ("Hello! Hello!")

Niue -- here's a nice greeting: "Love be with you."

Oman -- after a handshake, men might add a kiss on the nose. (Bet THEY keep their eyes closed!)

Singapore -- greeters slide their palms together back toward their own chests, then end with the hand over heart. Smooth.

South Africa -- here's another fun greeting shortened from English: "Howzit". Some Africans in South Africa have a complicated handshake; step one: interlock pinkies. Step two: clasp fists. Step three: back to the pinkies.

Swaziland -- they say, "I see you!" (What, no "peekaboo"?)

Syria -- children sometimes kiss the back of the hands of their parents or granparents

Taiwan --many years ago, the traditional greeting was, "Have you eaten?" A reader emailed me to say, "But nowadays, "Have you eaten ?" is not used anymore any where.  People just say "NiHao!" not a question  tone " NiHao Ma?"  as  "how are you?", which is not commonly used if a Chinese  greets another Chinese.  You may use it when you meet foreigners,  because it's more in western style.   But “NiHao"  serves  the same function, though  they do not anticipate you answer, you just also reply "NiHao!!" since it is not a question. 

Tuvalu -- this is my favorite. Relatives press a face to a cheek of the other and sniff deeply. Mmmm. Old spice.

Zambia -- some greet each other by gently squeezing a thumb.

Zimabawe -- the Shona people often show respect by doing a series of slow, rhythmic handclaps.

Why not make up your own greeting or secret handshake? Who knows... maybe it will catch on!

back to main page
programs Fun stuff for families schools reviews bio store
© 2006-2009 Bruce Van Patter -- may not be used without permission • SITE MAP