day 28: saying hello

air kissEvery country and culture has it’s own way of greeting, whether it’s kissing or hand-shaking or bowing. How and who you greet is nearly always culturally prescribed. If you’re lucky there’s one standard greeting for all situations and contexts. If you’ve picked a culture that has multiple greetings for various situations and hierarchies, then look forward to a number of awkward moments before getting it all right.

Luxembourg and Brussels are two cities with a massive expat population, which complicates things even more. Suddenly you’re not only having to figure out what the locals do, but also what the expats do!

In Luxembourg, the norm is three kisses, starting on with the right cheek. In Belgium, it’s one kiss, in theory much less time-consuming, but you need to greet everyone in the room when you arrive or leave which at a party can get a bit tiring.

There are a lot of French people who travel to work in Luxembourg each day. In France two kisses are normal. In Britain, kissing is only common for certain classes of people, and only really between women or between a man and a women, but never ever between men. Which seems to be the same for Luxembourg but in Belgium kissing between men was the norm.

Then throw in some Americans with their love of hugging (even strangers) and a big handful of Brits, the majority of whom like to keep a safe distance from each other, and it gets truly complicated!

My friend Rosie, wrote about this on her blog a few weeks back and it made me laugh out loud. Here’s how she put it…

“Imagine two people in Luxembourg about to greet each other, Person A and Person B. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Where A is from
  • Where B is from
  • If A already knows where B is from, because someone else told person A ahead of time, but person B doesn’t know that. Or vice versa.
  • How well they know each other, or if this is the first introduction, or anything in between.
  • If A and B are a male-male, female-female, or male-female
  • How generally friendly or comfortable with invasions of personal space either A or B are.
  • Who initiates the greeting and the exact timing of the response (I’ll expand on that in a second).
  • Whether it’s hi or goodbye
  • Remembering what on Earth the two of you did the last time.”

Complicated, much?! (You can read the rest of her post here). The upside of all this of course is that the confusion of greetings is only due to the very multi-cultural environment here in Luxembourg, which in most other ways is a complete joy to be a part of. So if the price of that is a few awkward near-mouth-to-mouth-kisses with your husband’s bosses wife? Well, I’ll take it…


This post is part of my 31 days to embrace expat life. I’m writing every day through October on this topic (I’m three days behind!). Click on the button to see all the posts so far…

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Air kiss image via Stuff rich people love