We’ve all been there. Had that awkward moment when we’ve been unsure whether to lean in for the kiss, shake someone’s hand, just say hello, or do something more weird and wonderful. So we’ve created a handy guide for what to do in different countries to help you be more prepared next time…
Of course we’re not going to say this list is in any way definitive: we’d be here forever if we ran through the norms in every European country, while everyone we’ve spoken to from each of the countries we’ve listed has said that there are regional variations and other dependencies on how well you know someone. However we hope this serves as a good starter for ten.
In old Blighty we’re known for being quite polite and restrained (generally), so handshakes are quite common in formal settings, for both men and women. Between friends hugging is also quite popular, and we’re also starting to get more comfortable with the odd cheek kiss, but perhaps moreso among London luvvies and hipsters. Anything more than that and you start to see fidgets and beads of sweats forming on brows not used to such displays of affection.
In saying that, we’ll always make sure introductions are made whenever someone new is brought into either a formal or informal setting. And we’ll probably offer a cup of tea too.
In the northern cities a kiss (or at least the gesture of one) on one cheek is quite normal, however in Bavaria this would be much rarer. A handshake (with or without a one-armed hug, depending on how well you know someone) is much more commonplace.
Don’t assume you’ll be introduced to everyone you meet though, newcomers are often expected to introduce themselves in a group situation, and might be greeted with just a wave if the group is larger.
Possibly one of the easiest to remember – in Sweden it’s always a handshake. Never kiss! Another important thing to remember in Sweden is that personal space is quite important and getting to physically close to someone can be off-putting, keep your distance and you’ll be fine.
And just like in Germany, you’ll need to introduce yourself to new people, no-one’s going to do it for you!
While older generations take a more traditional approach to greetings (some men would still offer to kiss a lady’s hand on greeting her), handshakes are now more commonplace among both men and women. Women will often go for a kiss on both cheeks with another woman they know.
In Spain there is a quite a distinct difference between formal and informal greetings. Someone you may know well enough to kiss in a public place, you would only ever be formal with if you met them at work. Men will shake hands, and only if they are very friendly will be comfortable with cheek-kissing.
In an informal setting, women are very happy to kiss on both cheeks. And yes, always two. No more, no less. The Spanish can also be quite tactile in general so hugging or touching is more acceptable.
Of course, we all know that in France cheek kissing is à la mode, n’est-ce pas? In truth it depends where you are. Parisians are more a fan of one cheek, whereas if you move to the south west, three might be more popular. Some areas even go up to four, which can make the “good-bye round” when leaving an event really quite drawn out.
While there may be a penchant for a kiss (and yes, guys are very happy to kiss guys), hugging is far less common. Handshakes however, can be very popular. In North West France, colleagues may shake everyone’s hand every day when they come in to the office – whether they know them or not.
Hopefully now you’ll now know exactly what to do if you find yourself at a formal meeting in south west France, with a female Spanish colleague, who doesn’t know your Romanian and German friends (who are also present), but has previously met your Swedish next-door neighbour at an informal occasion.
We’d love to hear about etiquette wherever you are, or any variation on the above, so please do leave a comment or tweet us with anything you’ve seen or experienced.
*Photo credits: tommaso lizzul, Lisa S. / Shutterstock.com