Language is more than words – Part 1


morethanwordshero 2

How embarrassing! The etiquette of meeting and greeting

We all love meeting people on busuu – conversing with people from different backgrounds and cultures whom you would never normally meet, all from the comfort of your living room. Best of all, there’s little chance of making any first-time-meeting faux-pas – just flip open a busuutalk or private message and get chatting!

But we don’t want you to just stay at home – we want you to get out there and practise your new-found language skills in the real world! Studies show that we have just 7 seconds to make a first impression, and that non-verbal communication has more of an effect on people than verbal. That’s why in this series we are looking at the theme ‘Language is more than words’ – when are words not enough?

Find out how the world greets others

Anthropologist Edward T. Hall defined our four levels of social interaction as being: intimate (distance of 6-18 inches), personal (distance of 1.5 to 4 feet), social (4 to 12 feet) and public (distance of 12 to 25 feet). At each distance, there are certain actions which are expected and certain which are inappropriate. But what happens when greeting etiquette from different cultures transcend different social distances?!

In international contexts, or places where there is little definition of greeting etiquette, greeting can be a social nightmare – in the UK, a handshake was always traditional, but cheek kisses have become more common, and these days some will even dive straight in for a hug!

Nod? Bow? Handshake? Kiss? Hug? Even where it’s clear there can be confusion. In France, the number of cheek kisses exchanged can vary from region to region – from 1 to a whopping 5! Context is also a defining factor. In Japan, a typical informal bow might be of around 15 degrees, whereas a formal one can be 30, and an apologetic bow would see a person dipping to 45 degrees! (Add in the duration and repetition of bows and we have even more variation!).

How do you greet people in your country? Does it vary across regions? Have you experienced any greeting faux-pas?! Leave a comment on our blog so that we can all learn to avoid the embarrassing situation pictured above!


  1. I’ve noticed that bodily movements, especially those of the face and arms/hands seem to be more universal than saying hello in a native language. Not everyone knows sign language, but blowing a kiss and waving your hand to say hi are recognized universally in general. That’s a good thing because it can progress to interest and conversation. We are not so separate just because we live apart in different places. Most have a curiosity in things foreign to them, Curiosity leads to exploration, and that is a basic part of human nature.

  2. Hai and greetings. In our part of the country, i.e. Tamilnadu, india, we greet in three postures. One for everybody we meet and that is to put both of your palms and fingers together raised at the level of the middle of the chest saying ‘vanakkam’. For all elderly and teachers, the same is applied at the level of the forehead. At the time of worshiping in the temples, the hands and palms are raised above the head touching one another in order to get the blessing of the Almighty God. However, nowadays the culture of handshake is found predominantly, except at the temples.

  3. I’m American (USA) and live on the West Coast. In meeting someone new, or even a friend we’ve not seen in some time, it’s usually just a handshake, usually the right hands. Firm, not hard, and not particularly long, or short.

  4. In Poland when people meet for the first time they usually exchage a handshake. We also add a sentence like ”Pleased to meet you” to make the introduction complete. While shaking hands we often say our name and in more formal situations we say our surname, too.

    On second and following meeting, depending on the degree of familiarity, we might exchange three kisses. Three, however, are being supplanted by two nowadays, especially among young people.

  5. I am Australian and we are very laid back and casual with our greetings. However when meeting someone in a formal introduction we would shake hands with our right hand and we usually say “pleased to meet you”. If it was informal at a friendly BBQ or at a party at a friend’s house you would shake hands and say “How are you going Mate” or “Nice to meet you”. With our multicultural society now a its acceptable for a male to put out your right hand to shake and put your other arm around the shoulder for a hug.
    Hugging and kissing close family and friends has always been our tradition. With our european migrants it became more acceptable for males to kiss on each cheek as well as females. Australians are well travelled these days and generally will follow whatever they see happening in the country they happen to be in at the time. I travel most years and find if I can learn a greeting and please and thank you in the local language I am generally accepted for having at least tried to communicate.

  6. Hi! Who says “never meet”? 😉 We’ve met on busuu two years ago 🙂 we talked every day and after one year our friendship became more close. We met in real twice… So thank you for our meeting for our friendship :)))))))))))

  7. I’m from Italy and people greet with the wave goodbye, using the simple movement of the face, the arms or the hands. This form is a lot of used specially for the young guys, while the handshake is important specialy by the managers during the meetings or when a person enters or leaves a shop after getting a purchase. When someone finds a friend from longtime use the hug, a simple gesture but always nice.

  8. if we meet each other, we make a handshake. i think that’s generally what people do if they meet other people around the world.

  9. i’m Indonesia. we say that one enemy is too much but a thousand friends is too little. So when we meet one other we will greet by assalamu’aialikum sand shake hand after because most of Indonesians are moslem, we fell warm after. and continue to talk

  10. As a conclusion of this talk,I see that it is usual and universal to take a handshake with right hand when people meet others in all over the world. However in parts of the world, this greeting format continues with two or three kisses and maybe with saying some words to show pleasure in a sentence like “nice to meet you” or “pleased to see you”.

  11. I very much like Busuu. I do wish I could communicate, verbally, with someone from there as I do have questions I would like to ask. I also enjoy correcting or commenting upon students’ work. Again, I do wish I could actually talk with the student. I really enjoy the feeling of being a help, and I’m also always curious as to where the other person is, and that it would be nice to know something about them, where they live, what they do, weather, student or work? All sorts of things. Thank you all. . . .


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