International Business Etiquette: Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands?

The meaning of a kiss is different around the world. In some cultures, it may be an expression of admiration or romantic affection, whereas in other cultures, it may be considered offensive. On this special day of romance, learn the ins and outs of the social kissing etiquette around the world.  Throughout all cultures people greet one another as a sign of recognition and friendship.

Here’s the common approach to cheek kissing in other countries:

  • One kiss:  Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Peru, the Philippines
  • Two kisses:  Spain, Italy, Greece, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Bosnia, Brazil (though, like France, the number can differ by region), and some Middle Eastern countries (though not between opposite sexes)
  • Three kisses:  Belgium, Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Egypt and Russia (where it’s accompanied by a bear hug)
Alternative Description

In the UK, cheek kissing is ambiguous and sometimes uncomfortable as no one is sure when it’s suitable or even how many kisses there should be. According to Debrett’s, the authority on etiquette and behaviour, kissing is taking over from handshaking, almost as the handshake took over from the bow. Men kissing one another as a greeting is still unusual, and kissing is not appropriate in many professional situations. On the whole, Debrett’s suggest it should only be used among friends, not at business meetings.

So what to do? One approach is to default to what is safest but take the other person’s lead. Even if you feel awkward or embarrassed, you’re demonstrating an important social signal that you’re aware of that country’s customs.

From all at Babel, we wish you a happy Valentine's Day!

Want to learn more?  Global Gift Giving can be just as important as a kiss, bow and shake of hands, read our blog on how to get this right too.  If you need to make a good first impression with your new international parent company, potential foreign client or supplier, contact us for a sample course outline for our 'Working Effectively with...' courses which focus on the culture/s of your choice and covers social and business etiquette.  All training is tailored to meet your needs and delivered at a location of your choice.

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