A fear of many when traveling concerns how to a great someone when in a foreign country, what are the customary greetings regarding someone you are just meetings, someone you know relatively well, or family members. The greeting changes from country to country so if you plan to travel, or do so frequently, so you aren’t uncomfortable get to know the most common customary greetings. I’m most comfortable with what takes place in Canada, France and Mexico, and somewhat with the USA, so I’ll stick to those countries’ customs.
France is famous for its kiss. On meeting a friend they know relatively well it is customary for men and women to kiss the other man or woman on the cheek, on both cheeks. In some places it may even be three times. It really isn’t even a kiss though, it is more of a meeting of cheeks and then a puckering of lips, to make the kiss sound. When meeting for the first time, or first couple of times, a handshake will suffice. For men who know each other quite well, especially family members, kissing becomes appropriate.
What is not done is the American “hug.” The French are not comfortable with this much contact, they even really don’t have a word for it. They have a sort of “half-hug”, which combined with the kiss by also grasping the shoulders, but “the stomachs shall never meet.” For meeting people for the first time a handshake for both men and women will suffice. Just don’t hug!
Mexico kiss as well but only one time on one particular cheek. After that it is very similar to France, except the men never move on to kissing one another. This kiss in Mexico can be more of a kiss then what the French do, in that you actually do “kiss” the cheek.
For this they have their form of a hug called an “abrazo”, involving first shaking hands, and then a form of hugging well you place the left hand on the other’s shoulder and then “slapping” the back three times, finishing with a handshake again. Legend has it that this came from checking the other out to see if the had any weapons hidden on them, by slapping first up high on the back, moving down, as you move away, place both hands on the sides (checking again), and then shaking hands once more. This takes place amongst men who know each other well. Hugging has now become more accepted as well in Mexico, again, for people than know each other well.
In Mexico, when children greet adults, it is very common to give, or receive, a kiss on the cheek. To not greet them as so is seen as rude.
Handshakes take place very frequently in Mexico, between men, as do kisses between men and women. Upon anytime you greet someone, this custom takes place. Whereas in the US or Canada, if you keep doing this every time you greet someone, they’ll think it’s a little strange.
Both Canadians and Americans begin with handshakes, for both men and women. In some places, in higher levels of society, the French or Mexican kiss has become accepted, but mostly it revolves around the kiss. For people you know better than just acquaintances, the hug is quite acceptable, especially if you haven’t seen them in awhile. Many have trouble with this kiss, either doing it very hard and pushing against the cheek and holding it for too long. For those, they are better off just not to do it. The kiss greeting, especially with the French, is very subtle. In some cases contact may not even be made.
Americans and Canadians should not try and hug the French, they are not at all comfortable with it. Stick to handshakes and practice the kiss; subtle with just a light meeting of cheeks on both sides. And you don’t have to shake hands all the time, both Canadians and Americans are quite comfortable with just handshakes at formal and first time meetings. After that no handshake needs to be repeated, unless you haven’t seen the person for some time.