2 January 2013

How to greet someone in the UK

In the UK, there is a myriad of things that you learn as a foreigner;
Don't smile at random people on the Tube in the street
Stand on the right side of the escalator and walk on the left
"Alright" is greeting and you should say it back - don't tell them your life story  Lollies are Sweets

The one that I've honestly struggled with a little bit is the greeting kiss. Work is fine, I greet most people with a handshake. It's when we get to the social aspect I come a little more unstuck. With people I know and have known for a long time, I hug, and they probably get a kiss on the cheek.

It's more when I get to hang out with people who I don't know really well, but know well enough to see socially. Do you kiss, do you handshake, do you kiss on both cheeks? Do you hug? Do you just stand there awkwardly smiling and wave like the Queen?

Normally it's fine, and they take the lead you can kind of do what they do.

It can lead to trouble though - at Christmas, my boss (female) and I almost kissed on the lips - not because we were drunk, but because I went to peck her 'Merry Christmas' on the cheek. Problem was, she went Left and I went Right. It could have been quite awkward.

Thankfully we laughed about it & did it right, but I'm not even sure if I should have done it. I discussed it with my hubby later and he laughed about it, but I think sometimes it's one of those things that make you do still feel like a foreigner at times.

I think at the end of the day I've managed to wing it for over 5 years, and everyone who knows me now can expect at least a shoulder hug. Maybe I need to ask people to specify how they prefer to greet? Ask them to fill out a questionnaire perhaps. I'm in the middle of reading "The Xenophobes guide to the English" and it's really interesting. Perhaps it will tell me.

Maybe I just need to rest my tired brain today.


  1. Hilarious Emma! It was similar for me moving to New Zealand from England. People here must have thought I was so stuffy! I still feel awkward with the greetings hugs and kisses of aquaintances. Maybe you can explain that NZ custom to me lol.

    1. It is an unusual cultural thing - Europeans seem to have a set two Kiss system which makes things easier.
      NZ customs? A handshake or a wave was my stock in trade, unless they are friends or family which it was a hug. Unless they are Maori elders, in which case it's quite often a 'hongi' where you touch your nose to their nose!

    2. Hehe...my cats hongi me all the time :)

  2. Happy New Year, Emma! I must confess to not having wondered about it, I just give everyone a kiss or two (sometimes even 3!) when I meet them! More often than not!

    1. Happy New Year Lin! I tend to let them lead, but then wonder if I look standoffish? Usually, to be honest I end up making a joke out of it anyway, then give them a kiss on the cheek. I probably overthink it.

  3. Haha, this really made me laugh. But I have the same problem. Once I said that I will always shake hand and give one kiss on the cheek. But then I was thinking what that I don't know everyone good enough to do that so I stopped and I just shake hand or wave and nothing else. But then people I had people trying to kiss me on cheek and just waved at them and we all stood there awkwardly. So I decided to wait what other people except of the close friends with them we don't have to think about this :)

    1. I'm SO glad it's not just me. It can be quite a wierd thing because you don't want to look like an oddball or unfriendly.

      In a chat, +Emma Cossey on Google+ suggested we just high-five everyone as a standard greeting - and I'm not sure she's wrong!


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