Unusual ways to greet people around the globe

A handshake says hello in America, but it’s a bewildering gesture in other parts of the world. From touching noses to shouting at the top of your lungs, here are some unusual ways people say hello throughout the world:

1. Giving Props to Your Elders in Africa


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In some African countries, young people are expected to do more than say “yes sir” or “yes ma’am” to their elders. Daphne Mallory, a native of Liberia who writes a column on senior living issues, says young people bow at the knee when speaking to an older person. It’s all about honoring them, she says. The Bellafricana blog says some male children will actually lie down in front of elders and parents and wait to be told to stand. One thing you should never do? Shake hands.

2. Kissy, Kissy in France


Americans often dislike having others in their space, but in France you pucker up and get personal. The French faire la bise, or give kisses, says Samson Adepoju, senior PR manager at Babbel, a language learning app. “These kisses can be really funny, because often even French people don't know how many kisses to give,” he says, adding that it depends on the region or the occasion. For example, on New Year’s Eve, you can give kisses that go on forever.

3. A Weighty Handshake in Sierra Leone

Concept of hand on my heart truth

Concept of hand on my heart truth (iStock)

Susan Eckert, owner of AdventureWomen, a travel company, was once a Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone, where she learned that you should hold your right arm with your left arm when shaking the hand of a person of high rank. It implies “that the other’s hand is of great weight,” she said. People may also touch their right hand to their heart after a handshake.

4. Say it Loud in Costa Rica


When visiting someone’s house in Costa Rica, don’t come a-knockin’. Instead, yell “Ooooooooope!” (Oo-pay), says James Kaiser, author of “Costa Rica: The Complete Guide.” This greeting, which you won’t hear anywhere else in Latin America, is derived from the longer expression, “Ave María para nuestra Santisima Madre la Virgen de Guadalupe.” The saying, which serves as both a greeting and a knock, refers to “Our Lady of Guadalupe” and was over time shorted to just “upe.”

5. Face Time in New Zealand


Saying hello in New Zealand means rubbing your noses and even your foreheads together. This tradition, called the “hongi,” comes from the ancient Maori tribe of New Zealand and is referred to as the “breath of life,” which is believed to have come directly from the gods. Even Princess Kate experienced this very personal greeting during her visit to the country in 2014.

6. A Twist on the Handshake in Rwanda


When Doug Fodeman of the Brookwood School in Manchester, Mass., arrived as the first exchange teacher at an all-girls school in Rwanda in 2012, he was taken aback when he reached out to shake someone’s hand and the other person closed his fist, turned it downward and offered his wrist. Fodeman soon learned that if a person has dirty hands, he presents his wrist instead. And if both people have dirty hands, they will touch wrists together.

7. Down the Hatch in Fiji

(The Travel Tar)

If you’re going to Fiji, be sure to bring along some kava for the village chief, lest you appear rude, says Anthony Bianco, who writes The Travel Tart blog and experienced the Fiji Kava Ceremony during a visit to the Pacific island. You drink from a half coconut bowl, which is scooped into a large Kava bowl. And before your first sip, you clap your hands and shout “Bula!” “It tastes terrible, but is ingrained in the daily way of life here,” says Bianco.

8. Thai Wai


A bit like “Namaste” in yoga and Sanskrit, the Thai “Wai” is a traditional greeting that involves pressing the palms of the hands together and then bowing the head forward. “Greeting each other with a wai is a sign of respect,” says Jenny Korn, a Thai-American scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “The deeper the bow of the head toward the individual, the greater the sign of respect.” It can mean “hello,” “goodbye” and “thank you.”

9. A Sweet Greet in Kenya

(Katie Rees)

Traveler Katie Rees, who visited the Maasai Tribe in Kenya in 2012 while on vacation, discovered a touching way to greet local children. The children bow their heads in respect to visitors and expect them to touch their heads with their palms in return. This may happen throughout the day, including when the children come home from school.