While widely believed to have evolved as a gesture to show that the greeter bears no weapons, and used in countries on every continent, the precise format of the handshake in different cultural contexts can be a matter of grave importance. Everything from strength of grip to the order in which you greet your hosts can give subtle hints about where you’re from, can potentially cause offence – or can display both affection and respect for your counterpart’s culture.
In nations as diverse as Canada, Mexico and Morocco, for example, a man should wait for a woman to offer her hand before extending his own, to ensure it is appropriate – while in Thailand, you shouldn’t shake a woman’s hand at all. In Australia, women should likewise make the first move – but as a woman, you shouldn’t try to shake hands with another woman.
In South Korea, a gentle handshake is preferred (one out of five on the firmness scale!) and it is important to greet a group in order of age, starting with the eldest. Supporting your right wrist with your left hand while shaking shows respect. If it sounds a lot to remember, it will soon become second nature, and you’ll recognize that such detailed customs raise one’s awareness of the beauty and fragility of our togetherness to a special level.
In France, the handshake is considered too formal when meeting family and close friends, while over the border the Swiss will shake hands with anyone but reserve the use of first names for their nearest and dearest. A simple train ride across Europe can become fraught with social complexities! But to get a better idea of what is appropriate and where, do check out this infographic before you go – it’s indispensable when overseas and keen to make a good first impression.
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