Open Menu

Greeting rituals in Europe

by Marlies Smits

Be it in your professional or personal life, greeting and welcoming somebody are among the most crucial signs of politeness. However, in this regard I would first like to clarify the difference between these two terms. Greeting somebody is acknowledging them politely whiling avoiding bodily contact.

A greeting consists of:

  • Eye contact
  • A nod
  • Smiling
  • A close, ideally with the name of the person you are greeting (Good day, Mrs. Smith).

While in your personal life there are hardly any hierarchies to observe when greeting someone - whoever sees the other first is the one who greets -, there is such a ranking system in your work life. The person of a lower level greets the person of a higher level. So if you are walking down the hallway and you see your superior, it is on you to "pass off" a greeting first. But what should it be? "Good day," "hello", or good old "enjoy your meal"? The rule of thumb is: The more official the occasion, the more official the greeting. You are almost always on the safe side by wishing a good day. "Hello" is generally considered too informal by the older generation, but it has naturalized itself as a greeting between acquaintances and like-minded people. The same goes for such regionally specific greetings as "Moin" or "GrüßGott", akin to "Howdy" or "Bless you". Use those where they appear appropriate.

Yet there is one you should avoid at all costs; you can certainly already tell that I mean the word "Mahlzeit" (enjoy your meal). This greeting is a bad habit that is heard between the hours of 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. But what does a meal have to do with a greeting? If you are sitting down with your coworkers at the table in the cafeteria, the wish for a (blessed) good meal could be acceptable - but on the way to the copier?

Now we must consider the question of when we greet people. It actually always depends. But if you are entering a room or coming up to a group of people, it is your job to greet first.

Entering a train compartment, a waiting room or sitting in a row of seats (e.g. airplane, theater, apresentation) is a good opportunity to create a friendly atmosphere with your good manners by greeting.

Now on to welcoming

To turn a greeting into a welcome, we need to add bodily contact. This is normally a handshake, but for people who are close it may be a hug, a pat on the shoulder or a kiss to the right and a kiss to the left. Here, too, there are myriad opportunities to score some points.

But gaffe alert: in the event of a handshake, the higher-up decides whether hands will be shaken.

For instance, a male boss extends his hand to a female employee, an older person to a younger person, and - bam! - a man to a woman.

From a professional standpoint it always depends on which position one is occasioning. Only when everybody is on the same level do age or gender play a role.

Naturally there is an exception to this rule, you have surely already considered it.

A host reaches his hand out to welcome his guests.

Even if it is the chairman of the company's supervisory board, the one who signs your checks.

Consultants, merchants or other service providers offer to shake their customers' hands. However, if you are on your own terrain, then only there are you the host.

Within a group of people, everybody should be welcomed in the same manner. It is impolite to only grace your favorite colleagues with a handshake and simply ignore the others. If one, then all.

Now I would like to strike a blow for the handshake. I know that it is not everybody's thing, but a handshake is a touch that can also create closeness and bonds. This allows you to positively influence the atmosphere and express acceptance, respect and appreciation.

Furthermore, the polite person stands up to welcome somebody. In the 3rd century this also applied to women.

The most important aspects of welcoming are summarized below:

  • Standing up
  • Noting the hierarchy
  • Pulling your hands from your pockets
  • Smiling
  • Maintaining eye contact
  • Shaking hands firmly and curtly
  • Stating your name

Of course it goes without saying that eye contact and a friendly smile are part of a handshake. But what about the name of your greeting partner? Do you say "Good day Mrs..."?

Always? Well, that's okay.

Was this information interesting to you? Then we recommend signing up for our newsletter. That way you will receive our etiquette tips eleven times per year free of charge, with many facts about the topic of "manners". This link will take you directly to the sign-up page:

(Kopie 1)

Marlies Smits

Haberkamp 60
22927 Großhansdorf