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How to Shake Hands Across the World

Updated on July 27, 2013
Shake Hands Across the World
Shake Hands Across the World

It is generally believed that the handshake evolved ever since earliest man first extended an open hand to show he was not holding a weapon. Since then, shaking hands has become the most universal way of greeting. It's become a form of international language when greeting or saying goodbye. It can be a way to express thanks, congratulations or encouragement. However, in many cultures there are certain protocols and customs one must adhere to when shaking hands, and the following steps will show how to shake hands across the world.


When a man shakes another man's hand, the grip should be firm , but not bone crushing, and not wimpy. There's nothing worse than a limp handshake unless you're in Japan. A lot can be told about a person by the way they shake hands. Another basic rule is never shake a person's hand while sitting down unless your'e both sitting. One should always stand to shake another person's hand.


Traveling abroad has its own set of rules. In Japan, for instance, shaking hands depends on the situation and is not the norm as it is in the west. Bowing has always been the traditional form of greeting and is considered a sign of respect. A Japanese man will generally shake hands with a Westerner because he knows it's their custom. However, hugging or kissing on the cheek is frowned upon, as is shaking hands too strongly. It's considered vulgar, even if you're a man. Japanese prefer to shake hands gently and softly.


Remember, in many countries, it's generally considered impolite for a man to shake a woman's hand if she doesn't offer it first. When meeting for the first time, a simple nod or verbal greeting will suffice if she doesn't extend her hand.


In India, the traditional form of greeting is performed by holding your palms together, as if praying, and bowing slightly. Shaking hands can be an acceptable form of greeting among urban and westernized Indians. Shaking hands with women is generally frowned upon. However, among urban Indians, some westernized women will shake hands, but only when they offer their hand first. In general, Indian society is conservative, and as in Japan, one should refrain from hugging, and or, kissing.


Hand shaking in China was only introduced decades ago and is still not commonly practiced in rural areas. Curiously, many Chinese still don't know when to offer their hand. Instead, they will nod or bow slightly. However, among urban Chinese men, the custom is now widely practiced, especially when greeting Westerners and other foreigners. Ironically, among Chinese, as with Japanese, a limp or soft handshake is regarded as a gesture of humility and respect. A Westerner should always wait for a Chinese person, especially a woman, to offer his or her hand first, before offering to shake hands. The hugging/kissing rule also applies here.


When meeting someone with a higher rank or position, the person with the higher rank decides whether or not to shake hands. When interviewing for a job, you should wait until the interviewer extends his or her hand first. Don't extend your hand while you are still across the room. Wait until you're face to face with that person


When in business circles, the playing field has become level. There is no distinction based on gender. In business, women should be treated as equals and should shake hands. In business, the only preference is given to rank. So, if a ranking executive is a man, and the woman is his junior, then he should extend his hand first.


When in Muslim countries, hand shaking rules can vary. For instance, many conservative Muslims believe unrelated men and women should never touch one another. Paradoxically, there are times when even shaking the hand of someone of the same sex can pose a problem. Some traditional Muslim sects believe any physical contact with any non-Muslim, male or female, makes the Muslim spiritually impure. Nevertheless, in today's business environment, the are often situations where men and women are introduced to each other, and depending on the culture and customs, it might be considered an insult to not extend one's hand to the other person. This becomes a slippery slope where one has to do their homework as to what's considered appropriate in a particular situation.


Remember, when in polite circles, guard against inappropriate or insulting interactions and learn when it's okay to kiss, bow or shake hands. If in doubt, don't do anything and wait for the other person, male or female, to initiate the first move. Keep these points in mind and learn how to shake hands across the world.


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    • poe9368 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      Very true, Thelma. Thanks for your comment.

    • ThelmaC profile image

      Thelma Raker Coffone 

      5 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      Informative hub. I think the best bet is to do your homework before visiting a foreign country. What is polite for us may seem rude to other cultures.


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