Greeting Gestures In International Business

10 August 2012

Many readers of this column have been inquiring now and then for some information about greeting gestures on international business.

Gestures are part of our culture, interwoven in our social lives and whether exporters realize it or not - they are powerful communicators in business.

Everyday we see people use their hands, their heads, and their bodies to communicate expressively with others. Gestures like high fives, thumbs up, clenched fists, victory sign, and even huggings are very popular not only in our culture but in other cultures as well. Indeed, gestures, commonly referred to as the "silent language" are used by everybody... by children, by athletes, by teachers, by sidewalk vendors, by traffic policemen, and by waiters, to name a few. No less than 700,000 gestures have been identified. But what is intriguing is that one gesture may be interpreted differently in the various cultures of the world.

One of the most popular gestures are so-called greeting gestures. Many of us are of the mistaken notion that handshake is the only kind of greeting gesture. Not true. There are other social greetings. And even in the case of the handshake, there are many different ways of shaking hands. Let me share with you some interesting tidbits about greeting gestures:-

• Handshake, probably the most popular gesture of greeting involves more than just hand pressure. The familiar "firm handshake and direct eye contact" is no longer universally accepted. The "gentle handshake" "trying to avoid direct eye contact" seems to be the growing preference in some countries like Japan.

• In some countries in the Middle East where it is not accepted practice for men to touch women, men should never offer to shake hands with the women.

• The French tops other nationalities when it comes to handshaking with people. They just love to handshake with people in any occasion, be it social or business, in the morning, afternoon, or evening. Probably, it is only Bolivians of South America who can match the French when it comes to handshaking.

• In some countries, the handshake is followed by a "bear hug" like what they do in Russia.

• The so-called "bear hug" is referred to as "abrazo" in Latin American countries. In other places however, like in North American and Northern European countries, people find hugging uncomfortable while other find hugging distasteful.

• In other places, instead of handshake, the people greet each other by rubbing noses. Remember the Eskimos' way of greeting one another?

• The Japanese traditional way of bowing as a form of greeting has retained its reverence and dignity despite the fact that the younger Japanese generation is now adapting some Western ways including the shaking of hands as a form of greeting.

• There are also exotic versions of greeting gestures. For example, in the sweeping upward and touching the heart; then the forehead; and finally up and outward and sometimes accompanied with a slight nod of the head.

Exporters who are serious in pursuing their businesses should spend some time studying, understanding, and appreciating the cultural peculiarities of the foreign buyers. Greeting gestures as practised in different cultures is indeed a mystique that defies logical study on the subject.

Have a joyful day!