Reverse Culture Shock: Greetings and Goodbyes.

I’ve decided to do a series of posts on reverse culture shock, since, as you know, I’ve recently moved back to the U.S. after a long stint in Santiago, Chile. 

I’m sure I’ve posted about this before, maybe in my etiquette posts, but in Santiago, greetings and goodbyes are pretty darn important. A typical greeting (unless in a very formal business situation) consists of a kiss on the cheek if you are two women or a woman and a man, or a friendly handshake with maybe a pat on the back (pseudo-hug) if you are two men. This is done every time you see someone you know or meet someone new. And then again when you say goodbye, even if you only saw them on the street and talked for two minutes. When you go to a social gathering with lots of people, the polite thing to do is to greet everyone in this way, unless there are more than ~20 people, then you might just greet the people you know. Or, you might greet everybody.

This also applies to some extent to the classroom. When I taught English, I had some classes where the students would greet me and everyone in the class. This didn’t happen all the time, but it happened.

In general, I liked this tradition. It is warm and welcoming. There are some situations where I’d rather not have certain people touching me, but those were few and far between. The only annoying thing was in large groups of people. When I wanted to leave a party, I’d have to budget it 10-15 minutes to go around and say goodbye to everyone before I could actually leave.

In the U.S., things are quite different. There are some people who do the whole cheek-kiss greeting, some people who hug, some people shake hands, some people do an awkward wave thingy. There is no standard. For me, if I haven’t seen someone for a long time, there will be a hug involved. But for example, when I was at my parents house and my Dad got home from work, I didn’t necessarily give him a hug every time, whereas when I lived with my Chilean family and my host dad got home, he would usually go around the house and greet everyone with a cheek kiss.

I don’t know that many people yet in Raleigh, but for example I have class with some of the same people. I don’t cheek kiss them. I don’t hug them. I just say hi and maybe wave if we are far away. It seems kind of sad, but that is how it is here. If I went up to everyone and wanted to kiss them on the cheek, they would think I was, at best, a crazy peace-and-love loving hippy and at worst, really really odd. Not a great way to make friends.

One upside to not having to do this is the fact that it is (outside of today) really humid in Raleigh. At least I don’t have to go around kissing really sweaty faces!

Check out my previous posts on reverse culture shock: 

Riding the bus

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12 thoughts on “Reverse Culture Shock: Greetings and Goodbyes.

  1. That’s something I have also found awkward when I have been back in NZ, the what to do when you see or meet someone. The funny little wave seems less personal and I much prefer the kissy thing, it creates more of a connection.

  2. When I went back to the US last Christmas, I couldn\’t shake my habit of cheek-kissing. It produced some awkward reactions among my friends. Since they didn\’t know what I was doing, as I leaned in to do the peck, some of them literally pulled away from me while others turned to kiss me on the lips! In almost all cases, I had to explain the Chilean tradition of one light kiss on the right cheek….coming and going.

  3. Haha. I’m loving these reverse culture shock posts. 🙂

    I love the cheek kiss thing. I’m actually a really tactile person and love to hug everyone (Really uncommon for a European) so I tend to freak Mexicans out by cheek kissing them and then going in for a hug. Hahaha.

  4. Abby-Cita! We will hug and kiss you in Raleigh ….. just don’t take it as an invitation to grab my @ss….. hahahaaaa – sorry I could not resist….. so inappropriate and inmature… but, seriously the Wrights will now hug and cheek kiss you! All 7 of us! Maybe Ellie too!

  5. I was always fascinated by this custom in Argentina (except even there the men cheek-kiss). I like the passion and intimacy of the culture, and this greetings and goodbyes are just one example.

    It is a little weird in the US where there is no consistency, and some people are just so awkward about about any touching. The worst is when one person goes in for the hug and the other the handshake.

    But I am glad I will not have to go around cheek-kissing 20 sweaty people in my gym class.

    • Yeah, the avoidance of the sweaty cheek kiss is definitely a plus! I just can’t get used to the handshake when meeting new people, though. People outstretch their hand and I kind of stare at it for a second before I know what to do.

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