It’s really amazing how differently people greet each other (or don’t, as I discussed in the “Greetings from Finland” post) around the world. Saudi men place their right hand on their chest when they meet you. It is a sign of respect, and to me when I lived in Saudi Arabia it always made me think the person was saying, “You’re in my heart.”
In America we have a variety of greetings, some regional or even generational. When I lived in a rural area of South Carolina it took some time for me to get used to another driver raising his hand to me in greeting as we passed each other. ( Someone’s hand coming up from a car in your peripheral vision field may have another meaning in the Northeast, and it’s not a welcome.) I still recall observing two young men on a college campus walk by one another and just nod as they passed. Not a word was uttered.
Yesterday I was discussing greetings with my French colleague. He had “Enchante” written on the board when I walked in. I asked him if that was a greeting and he indicated it was. I said in English it sounded like it meant, “I am enchanted to meet you”, a rather elite sounding sentence. He told me that in France it was used by the lower classes. Now I learn today that the current swine flu pandemic has not only produced hand sanitizers and experimental vaccines, but has also affected French greetings. The French have been warned to avoid pecking each other on the cheek — “la bise” — to avoid passing on the disease. I guess they definitely won’t revert to the greeting gentlemen had for ladies in the late 18th century. Gentlemen in that day kissed ladies on the neck to avoid messing up their painted faces.
Perhaps the swine flu will make a lot of cultures come up with new forms of greeting. I can think of a few cool ones already.