Quaint Greeting Customs 'Round the World - None of Which Include Crotch-Grabbing

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Greeting customs vary widely around the world--and throughout history. This article explores a few of the more unusual.
    In a now infamous scene from Crocodile Dundee, Paul Hogan’s character “Mick” grabs the genitals of a sexually-ambiguous individual at a socialite party in order to verify his or her gender, to which Mick’s love interest “Sue” responds, “Oh, he’s okay, he’s Australian“--the inference being that his behavior is appropriate for someone from the Land Down Under.   And while this isn’t actually a common custom in Australia, there are a number of customs practiced around the world that while seeming quite appropriate among certain cultures, may appear a bit unusual among others.

     The custom of rubbing noses, for instance, often colloquially termed an “Eskimo Kiss,” was indeed a long standing greeting among Intuits and many other Natives of North and South America, as well as the South Pacific, for centuries--though this quaint custom seems to be dying out in popular use.  

     In a similar vein, kissing one‘s cheek upon meeting has grown in common use in many parts of the world over the past century, with much of Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean taking up this intimate custom.  

     In Japan, formal meetings are almost always acknowledged with a bow (as is the case in many traditional segments of East Indian and Chinese society), while in the Ukraine, you can expect to be greeted with a hug and three kisses--always the right cheek first (so get ready to present it).  Throughout Argentina (as well as in most of Portugal), men greet each other with a hug and a pat on the back, while women give two kisses to both men and women they meet.   And while most of the remaining world now utilizes the handshake so common to the United States and Americans world-wide, if you find yourself in South Africa, be aware that no casual gripping of the hand will do; the shake but be quite firm, and the eyes must be focused directly into the eyes of the one you’re meeting--lest they think you untrustworthy.

     In the Philippines, broad smiles and kisses are expected, and should you be considered an elder or someone of high status, you can expect to have younger Filipinos press their foreheads to the palm of your hand.  In Brazil, a kiss and hug are the norm, while in Thailand it is common to press ones hands together and say, “Sawaddee,” with the higher the hands in relationship to the face, the higher the perceived respect (this originally was to indicate the absence of weapons--once considered the ultimate show of respect).  In India, you’re likely to hear the greeting “Namaste,” meaning that your new friend is expressing, “the god in me greets the god in you,” while in Rome you’ll hear, “Salve” (no "Ciao" or any other trendy Euro-greeting is appropriate). But while most of these greeting customs may seem relatively tame, here are a few that might appear a little more unusual.

     In certain sectors of Chinese society, a new acquaintance is applauded.  While this is occurring, the one being honored is expected to remain humble and show only humility.  In Egypt, after first taking your hands, someone you have just met may well touch or rub your elbow, then begin discourse within just inches of your face as if they've known you all of your lives. 

     Across South America a full-body greeting called the abrazo is expected, which involves either the commonly used full embrace followed by a patting on the back, or in some regions, the interlocking and sharking of forearms.  In parts of North Africa and the Middle East, women cannot be greeted or formally introduced at all, but if socially forced to acknowledge a newcomer, will face the ground while allowing you to momentarily take the tips of her fingers.  In many areas of the Brazilian Rainforest, no formal introduction can occur without the presentation of a gift, while among other groups, an outsider must stand at the edge of the tribe’s territory and beg to be admitted.   And in remote parts of Papua New Guinea, you can expect to be berated and belittled upon first meeting--and expected to endure it until they feel that you are deserving of “sane“ treatment.  But regardless of the greeting or part of the world in which is it customary, you will see great variation region to region, with a number of age and sex distinctions that change over time.  And just in case you’re interested, in Australia today the trend is to just say “G’ Day” and nod--which means they haven’t embraced the quaint custom of grabbing one’s crotch--at least just yet!