Are you afraid of the awkward dance of meeting someone from a foreign land? Should you kiss? How many times? Or should you bow / rub noese / clink elbows? Come and share with us what you say and how you greet people in your country. (can either email us or post as a guest comment)
-Ni hao ma？(formal, “how are you?”)
-Wo hen hao, ni ne？（I’m fine, how are you?）
-Hai hao / Bu cuo (so so / not bad); Ma ma hu hu (an idiom literally translated as “horse horse tiger tiger”, means “so so”)
However, these greeting are not frequently used in our daily life. We more often greet with a simple “hi” and reply with a smile and head-nodding.
We are so conservative that we will not kiss or hug people when meeting for the first time. We would usually nod our heads and smile or shake hands (in formal occasions). Kissing on the cheeks might make shy people uncomfortable (not applicable to those who get used to Western practice).
-Genki (g as in egg enki) desu (dess) ka? (“how are you”)
-Genki desu, arigato, anata wa? (“I’m fine, thanks, and you?”)
-Watashi mo genki desu, arigato. (“I’m fine too, thanks”)
We greet each other by bowing. A bow ranges from a small head-nodding to a long, 90 degree bend at the waist. If the greeting takes place on tatami floor, people get on their knees in order to bow.
When bowing to someone of higher social status, a deeper, longer bow indicates respect. Contrarily, a small nod of heads is casual and informal, in certain situations may be offensive. And it is also common to shake hands with people.
However, most Japanese do not expect foreigners to know those rules and a nod of head is usually sufficient.
**Thanks to Tanaka san for his contribution on this post.
Because we have loads of languages and dialects here, you may also hear a greeting with mixed languages, such as “Kumusta?” ( borrowed from Spanish), and “Okay naman” (mixture of English and Filipino, “Fine,you?”)
We are conservative on physical contact, but surely not to make you embarrassed. Kissing (on the cheek) is only for dearest ones. Hugging is for acquaintances and friends you haven’t seen for a long time. Shaking hands is appropriate when you are formally introduced.
There is a beso-beso (placing one’s cheek to the other’s or air kisses) between women. And it also has been adopted over time between men and women, but definitely a no-no between men.
It is customary for the younger or lower in status to begin the greeting. When leaving, it’s ok to do the same. This gesture is called a “Wai”. If you are greeted with a Wai you usually reply with the same gesture, though it is not necessary to return a Wai to a child, waiting staffs, drivers or other help. You might hope to strike a blow for equality, but will in fact cause embarrassment. Initiate a Wai because of sincere pleasure at an introduction. You will not cause offence if you Wai inappropriately, but you may create confusion. Any smiles you receive in return are of appreciation.
In this conversation, you should always pretend to be fine, even if you are not. This is the expected answer. You can only break this rule with a really close friend. And we also have regional difference when greeting. For instance, in Yorkshire people say “Alright!” instead of “hello, how are you?” In more formal situations we say “Good morning”, “Good afternoon”, or “Good evening”, which are commonly used when speaking on the phone as well.
On meeting someone for the first time, we would normally shake hands if it’s a formal situation, say, at work, or even just smile at each other. If it’s a friends or casual acquaintance, we would hug or make one kiss on the check (only between two women or a man and woman).
And we are well-known for the warm, latin-american-like greetings, very effusive, festive with lots of kisses and hugs. Among men, if they are friends, there’s generally a light hug and a tap on each other’s back. Among women or a man and woman, kisses are the norm.
However, we kiss different times in different region. In Brasilia, my hometown, we kiss twice on the cheek. If you go a bit farther, more to the south of Brazil, say, São Paulo, then one kiss is the routine. So, you’d better check in advance how many kisses and how tight you should hug a Brazilian! Anyway, with Brazilians, everything will do, kisses, hugs, taps. Leave shaking hands only to formal situations.