Westerners are often times confused with what greeting gesture to use while in Latin America.Generally, Western cultures utilize handshakes and hugs – handshakes for business and unfamiliar acquaintances, and hugs for close family and friends.
On the other hand, Latin cultures rarely use hugs for their embrace of choice.Rather it is customary to give a lipless kiss on the right check, even if it’s your first time meeting a person through a mutual friend, but not in a business setting.
A bit confused? I was too.Here is a list of the greeting gestures in common social settings in Panama:
Male to Male; It is almost always a handshake.Only if the other male is a close friend or a member of your family you will give a hug.
Female to Female;Always a kiss except in business settings.
Male to Female;Here’s where it gets complicated. The following encounters will be between a male and a female.
Long time friends:Kiss
First encounter via mutual friend, i.e. a friend introduces you to his/her co-worker: Kiss
First encounter multiple people: All kisses even if there’s a large group.It is only excusable not to kiss the group when there is a large obstacle making introductions difficult.I.E. a group of 10 people sitting around a table and it’s bothersome and awkward to go around the entire table.In that case, a simple wave to the group and saying “hola, mucho gusto” will do.
Second encounters without the mutual friend:Always a kiss, even if you didn’t talk to the person the first time you met.I.E.you met a person for the first time at a lounge and 6 days later you bumped into each other at a coffee shop.This would qualify for a kiss greeting.
Children:Informal handshake regardless of gender.Males should only kiss if the female is an adult.Females may kiss other teenagers females even if there is an significant age difference.
Business setting long time friends:Kiss
Business setting acquaintances:Handshake.Business settings typical are influenced by Western corporate culture.So even though you might kiss greet that same person at the library, in the board room you will shake hands.
Meeting the family.ALWAYS KISS THE MOTHER.If you are a Westerner and you’re meeting a significant others family for the first time, make a point to kiss the mother.Latinos have very close knit families and a mother’s first impression can make or break the relationship. Kissing her will demonstrate a level of Latino cultural understanding – this will definitely earn brownie points.
Restaurants.While I was dining with my mother in Argentina, I would make proper introductions with our waiters.If our server was female, I would be greeted with a handshake and my mother with a kiss.In this situation, the male never should gesture towards a kiss, rather settle for the handshake.
Country cultural customs.In Panama, rural interior customs are much more conservative.In places like Boquete and Pedasí it may not always be appropriate to lead with a kiss.When in doubt, observe your local surroundings and follow suit.
Things to remember.
Who leads?Typically the male leads introduction.So, if you are the Western male do not wait for the female to initial the greeting.Make the move.
Suave. Do not dive bomb into kisses.Nothing is more painful, and slightly embarrassing than smashing into each other faces like a mountain goat.To avoid potentially fracturing your face, try posting your arm against the opposite persons shoulder to control the speed.
One for the road too.Be sure to kiss everyone on your way out the door.Leaving without a goodbye kiss will be considered rude.
I am quickly coming on my 1000nd day in Latin America and these are some of the introduction lessons that I have learned.The way in which you greet someone will significantly shape your first impression with that person.Good luck, and pucker up.
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