There’s an amazing diversity of greeting customs around the world. In Tibet sticking out your tongue can be a way of welcoming people. In New Zealand, Maori greet each other by touching noses. Ethiopian men touch shoulders, and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, male friends touch foreheads. In many Asian countries, people bow to each other when meeting. And in some European countries, as well as Arab countries, hugs or kisses on the cheek are more the norm. While this wasn’t always true, the most common physical way to greet people around the world is now the handshake.
It’s become so ubiquitous that you may never have thought about why people shake hands. The history of the handshake dates back to the 5th century B.C. in Greece. It was a symbol of peace, showing that neither person was carrying a weapon. During the Roman era, the handshake was actually more of an arm grab. It involved grabbing each other’s forearms to check that neither man had a knife hidden up his sleeve. Some say that the shaking gesture of the handshake started in Medieval Europe. Knights would shake the hand of others in an attempt to shake loose any hidden weapons.
While handshaking is still the most ubiquitous greeting around the world, it may be losing ground in the US. The fist bump was, until recently, a gesture mostly used by athletes and young people. Now it’s becoming more and more common among everyone, including older people. Even the President of the United States is a fan of the fist bump. According to one survey, forty nine percent of Americans sometimes choose the fist bump over a traditional handshake greeting. The fist bump, made by making a fist and lightly touching knuckles, may be a more fashionable greeting, but for many it’s a pragmatic choice. Many survey participants said they preferred the fist bump because they were afraid of catching germs by shaking hands. How do people greet each other in your country? Is the fist bump catching on where you live?