Non-Contact Greetings from Other Cultures

Vijay Chander
6 min readMar 23, 2020

The “traditional ways” of contact greetings i.e. handshakes, hugging etc. have been under siege for a while. Infectious diseases like Ebola, SARS, Swine Flu slowly have been putting a strain on handshake as a form of greeting. I have been pondering if this is the,” beginning of end of handshake” as we know it? The current Corona virus pandemic seeing images like no hand-shake has become quite the norm and has forced us to re-think the way we greet each other. Some of us are confused, disheartened, upset, depressed and angry not to be able to shake hands or give a hug or not to have physical contact with another human being. This is rather disheartening but health and safety trumps over our preferences. We need to change and learn new ways of non-contact greetings. I took the opportunity to learn about various non-contact greetings and their significance in sustaining human relationships.

Non-contact greetings have been part of the DNA in many cultures for eons. Some cultures have managed to sustain non-contact greeting despite famous handshakes. It may be interesting to examine certain non-contact greetings from other cultures. Some of them may be funny, bit out of our comfort zone or we may find it very uncomfortable. Here are few examples of non-contact greetings in different cultures and their meaning/ significance.

1. Tibet

Some Tibetans greet each other by sticking out their tongues. You will not see many people still practicing this old tradition, dating back to the 9th
century. Lang Darma, the Tibetan king at the time, was thought to have had a black tongue, which people took as a sign of evil hence they started

sticking their tongues out to prove that they were not evil. This was usually followed by putting their hands on their chest.

2. Japan

Japanese people greet each other by bowing (which is also used as a thank you and goodbye). The gesture can range from just a nod, which is a casual greeting, to bending at the waist, which is a sign of respect. If the people happen to be on a traditional tatami mat floor, they get on their knees to bow.

3. Malaysia

It’s very formal, but this traditional Malaysian greeting has a particularly lovely sentiment behind it. Take the opposite person’s hands lightly in yours. Then, release the other person’s hands and bring your own hands to your chest and nod slightly to symbolize goodwill and an open heart. It’s polite for the other person to return the gesture. Note that men wait for local women to extend a hand, and if they don’t, a man puts a hand on his chest and give a slight nod. I think the first part of taking other person’s hand may be foregone in the time of Covid-19 virus pandemic.

4. Thailand

Wai is a prayer-like gesture. People put their hands together, raising them to a level just above the chest — the higher the level the more respect it shows — and bowing. Younger people are expected to initiate Wai first. Wai is also used to express gratitude, especially when people get gifts from the elderly.

5. India

Namaste, placing both hands together, fingers pointing upward, and bowing, is a form of respectful greeting practiced in India. It is used for both hello and goodbye. The spiritual meaning of Namaste is, “ My soul honors your soul. I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides. I honor the light, love, truth, beauty & peace within you because it is also within me. In sharing these values, we are united, we are the same, WE ARE ONE”.

6. Micronesia

In Micronesia, raising the eyebrows is a just a simple way of saying hi and acknowledging the other person’s presence.

7. Pakistan, Bangladesh and other Muslim regions:

This is a common greeting in many Arabic-speaking and Muslim countries. It is also a gesture of respect. The salutation involves a low bow of the head and body with the fingers touching the forehead. This way of greeting dates back to the 17th century.

8. Niger: Shaking Fists

The Kanuri people, an ethnic group in Niger and Cameroon, in western Africa, shake a fist at head level and call “Wooshay! Wooshay!” which means “Hello! Hello!”

9. Cambodia

In Cambodia, especially during formal occasions, people press their hands together as if they were praying, holding them at chest level, and bowing slightly. The higher the hands, the more respect is shown. This is the traditional way to say hello and goodbye.

The traditional handshake is being replaced due to spread of infectious disease. The global spread of Corona Virus has suddenly challenged the way we greet each other. Here are few examples of new ways of greetings.

  1. Eastern Democratic Republic Congo during Ebola Virus

2. Liberia during Ebola Virus

3. Anti-Corona elbow greeting

Lastly, the world of non-contact greetings would be incomplete without the mention of “the Vulcan Salute-Live Long and Prosper”

Stay Safe! Stay Healthy by choosing whatever form of Non-contact Greetings you choose! Let’s do our part in arresting the spread of Corona Virus.

Wooshay! Wooshay! As-Salam-u-Alaikum! Namastae! Wai! Live Long and Prosper!

References

1. Aubrey, Alison: No-Touch Greetings Take off: People are Getting Creative About saying “Hi”
2. Byrnes, Hristina: Kisses, Handshakes, and Fist Bumps: How to Say Hello in 40 Countries
3. Ciolli, Chris: Beyond the Handshake: How People Greet Each Other Around the World

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