It happened at the Vancouver Airport, one of the main meeting places of the world.
It was the year 2011 and I had come to greet a relative who would shortly arrive for our family reunion.
With me were one of my nieces and her companion, both French — one by birth and one by choice. When my relative arrived and saw me, he indicated that he would like to be greeted the French way — kissing first the right side, then the left side and finally the right side again of his face.
It could have been embarrassing but was not because the gentleman in question was my brother-in-law whom I know for more than 65 years.
Also, I remembered that the French way of greeting each other has become more and more the European greeting of choice: just watch their political get-togethers on TV.
The episode brought to my mind, however, how much smaller the world has become and how important it is to keep-up on the ways we greet each other.
Rudy, my late brother who was a Lufthansa host at the Montreal Airport for several years, used to entertain us with stories of German passengers who greeted each other with only a handshake, no matter how much time had gone by since they had seen each other last.
Mind you, there are differences in handshakes, too. They can be formal and short, longer and warmer and they may include a pat on the back or on the shoulder. The Russians kiss, but in a slightly different ritual than the French, the English politely ask each other how they are doing (How do you do?) and the Italians, a very warm people, seemingly have no prescribed way of making their guests welcome, they just do!
Here, on this continent, there are all kinds of “Hellos”, “Howdys”, “Hi’s” and “Nice to meet you’s”, the last one usually with a brief handshake.
My preferred way of greeting is the “all Canadian bear hug.” I guess that, after belonging to the Harrison Hiking Group for over 20 years where we greeted each other in this way every Wednesday before going on a hike, it has become a habit hard to shake. And besides, I truly love it the best.
In some countries, like New Zealand and our continent’s “far north”, for instance, people greet each other by rubbing their noses.
My brother-in-law, who has spent much time in China and Japan and studied their cultures extensively, often talks about their way of greeting each other, both the way it was and the way it is now. One very old and traditional Chinese custom was bowing to each other, a practice which required learning its rules and regulations before even attempting to try it.
Later in time, the practice of bowing became an acquired custom in Japan, too. Interestingly, while it is still being practiced in Japan, it largely has become a custom of the past in China. Luckily, the younger generations of the world do not take these things too seriously anymore.
During a multicultural dinner gathering I attended just recently, I was seated opposite a young man from Japan, here on business. At the end of the evening we laughed and wondered how to say goodbye to each other. He solved the situation perfectly: first we shook hands, then we bowed slightly, finally we hugged and everything was covered!
I think, given how small the world has become and how interacting we now are, perhaps, it would be a good idea to print lists of international ways to greet each other and hand them out along with passports, citizenship documents, etc. Or, we all should take a hint from the Italians and not worry so much about the formalities of greeting but just be warm and welcoming to each other!