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If you don’t travel that much, chances are you’ve had no problems greeting others with a handshake, a hug, or a simple “how are you,” regardless of their culture. But at holiday parties, the mix of strangers, friends of friends of friends, extended family, and other unfamiliar persons might lead you to encounter someone from another culture whom you might not be all that sure how to introduce yourself to or converse with. Though it’s impossible to cover every culture you might encounter, here’s some of the basic body language rules to keep you from becoming acquainted with no one’s friend, trouble!
Most countries have conformed to the Western introduction of the handshake. Even then, there are many variations with the duration, strength, and what should or can accompany the handshake. For example, you might smile when you shake the hand of a Chinese person, but they might not smile back at you– not because they don’t like you, but because they might have been taught not to show emotion, which includes smiling. On the other hand, a Spanish person may pat you on the back or even give you a hug upon introduction. Generally, though, a light handshake with one or two pumps will suffice.
Some cultures do, some don’t. In most countries, for example France, kissing on the cheek is reserved for those that are close or for family. If you meet a Norwegian, don’t expect any sort of physical contact besides the handshake! If the other person leans forward to kiss your cheek (or kiss the air beside your cheek), you should do the same, just out of respect for their customs.
Eying that Australian hottie across the room? Then don’t wink at her; that’s considered rude. If you smile at a French cutie, don’t expect one back; the French don’t usually smile at strangers. If a Greek man smiles at you, he might not be interested in you; Greeks smile when angry, too! But if that same man strokes his chin when he sees you, you’re good to go! See, flirting is definitely one of those tricky circus acts that require cognizance of public space, appropriateness of touching, body gestures, and the type of people at that function (business, casual…). It might be best to keep the distance given to you by the other and engage in a friendly but not too deep conversation. Otherwise, you’re on your own here.
So you’ve had a lighthearted discussion with a German party-goer, and you both must depart… what do you do? Some would accept another handshake, like the Belgian; for others, like for most of Europe, a wave will do. But even that wave varies from the Westerner wave. Again, your best bet is to follow the body language and gestures of the other person.
Wanna know the easiest way to not make an ass of yourself? Don’t fart. Moreover, don’t fart when it’s just you and one other person in the room. Then it’s just awkward when you know you both have to pretend it didn’t happen. Not that I know from experience or anything. My point is, brush up on your knowledge of body language and etiquette before interacting with persons of different cultures at a holiday party– you might save yourself some face (or at least look worldly).