In my twenty-odd years, I’ve done some traveling and been immersed in many different cultures. It’s been fascinating to observe different customs for greetings, goodbyes, and displays of respect or affection.
In Ecuador, where I grew up, it’s common for men and women to greet each other with hugs or kisses on the cheek. Uruguay, where my parents work, can be a little more effusive: men often greet other men with cheek kisses. The US, where I currently reside, generally frowns upon such intimate displays of affection; waves and handshakes are the norm. In South Korea, where I spent a month teaching, slight bows are used to demonstrate respect or gratitude.
Yes, I’ve seen all kinds of greetings. Which is the best? My all-time favorite greeting, by far, is the gentleman’s gesture known as the fist bump.
The fist bump is quick, friendly, informal, and surprisingly healthy. Handshakes spread germs like nobody’s business. Besides, palms perspire and that’s gross. There’s also the discomfort that comes from knowing neither how hard to grip a hand nor for how long to hold it.
Hugs, especially with strangers or distant acquaintances, aren’t much better. Am I the only person who finds it awkward to press my body up against someone whom I don’t know well? It was also uncomfortable in Ecuador and Uruguay when people swooped in to kiss me.
I… actually have no criticisms for slight bows. I bow to people occasionally. It’s a pity bowing hasn’t caught on in the West.
Fist bumps are definitely my favorite greeting, though. They represent a kind of warm, casual friendliness while never getting too up close and personal. Fist bumps are quick, easy, and sanitary. As I work in a group home for gentlemen with disabilities—an environment in which no one washes his hands without being asked—fist bumps are an especially welcome alternative to handshakes.
If you ever happen to run into me, dear reader, feel free to give me a fist bump.