Cultural Encounters/"Nice to meet you!"

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Over the course of the Erasmus IP Cultural Encounters Summer School mindsets and outlook regarding people and their practices when it comes to social interaction and how these practices differ across cultures were broadened. The greeting etiquette and the cultural mores concerning hospitality in six different cultures (Croatia, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Portugal and Slovenia) were observed and are summarised below.

A hug between friends

It was concluded that certain cultures prefer more physical contact than others and that a greeting can go as far as defining the relationship between friends and family, professors, foreigners and guests.

PERSONAL SPACE[edit | edit source]

Meeting new people is a common experience that may cause a feeling of discomfort while communicating for the first time. The root of this problem lies in the clash between different cultural backgrounds. After discussing the issue with the national groups participating in the summer school (Croatia, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, and Slovenia), it was concluded that it mostly depends on differing perceptions of personal space. In all of the countries analysed, the idea of personal space is quite similar. People generally tend to create a distance between themselves and people they do not know. For example, at bus shelters all of them would maintain a safe distance and on buses they would rather sit alone than share a seat with a random stranger. The differences and similarities in how people perceive personal space have been thoroughly studied in the field of cultural studies, as they serve as an important starting point for the comparison of cultures. Edward T. Hall[1] developed the concept of proxemics, which aims to describe how people behave and react in different types of culturally defined personal spaces. In his work, Hall emphasized the impact of proxemic behavior (the use of space) on interpersonal communication. Hall defined personal space as the immediate space surrounding a person[2]. Body spacing and posture, according to Hall, are unintentional reactions to sensory fluctuations or shifts, such as subtle changes in the sound and pitch of a person's voice. Social distance between people is reliably correlated with physical distance, as are intimate and personal distance.[3]. Hall also notes that different cultures maintain different standards of personal space. Realizing and recognizing cultural differences improves cross-cultural understanding, and helps eliminate discomfort people may feel if the interpersonal distance is too large (stand-offish) or too small (intrusive). The concept of personal space within any culture is, therefore, something to be respected and the same could be said for greeting habits.

GREETINGS: A PRACTICAL GUIDE[edit | edit source]

Greetings across cultures can differ greatly and the data collected reflects this. Croatia, Germany, Great Britain and Slovenia are markedly less tactile than the Portuguese when it comes to greeting friends, family and foreigners.

A fist-bump between friends
GREETING IN CROATIA[edit | edit source]
  • Meeting people for the first time

When Croatians meet other people for the first time, they usually shake hands, say Hello, nice to meet you (Bok, drago mi je sto smo se upoznali) and briefly introduce themselves. It differs slightly depending on the social situation. When meeting peers, for example, Croatians tend to greet them in a fairly relaxed and casual way. It is common, however, to greet one's superiors such as people older than oneself in a more polite and formal manner, so as to show respect.

  • Acquaintances

When it comes to acquaintances, people in Croatia usually greet them with a simple Hello, how are you? (Bok, kako si), which is usually followed by a conversation on what is new in everybody's lives. Croations tend to keep their distance and avoid physical contact so as not to seem intrusive. Invading someone’s personal space is not something Croatians are comfortable with. Nevertheless, they meet acquaintances in a manner that is relaxed and casual, but still not as open as when meeting friends or family members.

  • Academic and professional settings

In academic or professional settings, Croatians always greet in a formal way. A simple Good day (Dobar dan) is enough and is usually followed by a brief question of any kind. It is polite to show respect for those who are professionally on a higher level. More specifically, Croatian students address their professors by using their academic title and surname, or by using both their first name and surname. On the other hand, during the Summer School, we have noticed that the Irish tend to address their professors in a more informal way, which is quite different from what the Croatians usually do.

  • Friends & family

This subcategory is the most informal way of greeting other people in Croatia. It is so complex because there are not any fixed rules as to how the members of family or friends should be greeted. When meeting friends, Croatians act casually and physical contact is not avoided to such an extent. For instance, it is acceptable to hug friends upon meeting them. Croatians sometimes give each other a kiss on the cheek as well, depending on the friendship level or individual habits. But mostly, they hug and then continue chatting. Furthermore, Croatians meet members of their family with a kiss or a hug, especially when meeting relatives whom they have not seen for a longer period of time. But, when it comes to grandparents, it is obligatory to give them a kiss.

It can be concluded that people from Slovenia and Croatia have similar ways of greeting each other, which can probably be explained with the fact that these two countries are geographically close.

GREETING IN GERMANY[edit | edit source]
This is an impromptu visit to a German home. Credit: Schtanjel.
  • Meeting people for the first time

When the German people know someone new, the norm is to shake hands while introducing themselves or being introduced, and just saying Hello (in this case,Hallo).

  • Acquaintances

Regarding meetings with acquaintances, the norm is to wave and to say Hello, without shaking hands or establishing any other physical contact.

  • Academic and professional settings

When it comes to greeting university teachers, the Germans, for instance, shake hands with the ones they have developed a certain relationship with over the years of their studies and address them formally(unless they are native speakers of English, who prefer to be addressed more informally). In more formal circumstances, first names are never used. Age is, therefore, an important factor when it comes to choose the appropriate register in any given social settings.

  • Friends & Family

In Germany, dependent upon the relationship between them, two friends might greet one another with two kisses on the cheek for girls or a brief hug. Interestingly, in what seems to be a typically German practice, students will knock on the table a couple of times to greet a group in a classroom situation and also to express gratitude when a class has finished. Germany seems to be the most reserved nation when it comes to personal contact. It is typical for most German homes to have an intercom system so that they can be prepared for their guests. For the most part relatives and friends would be greeted with a hug or a handshake with the exception being a more formal greeting for some family members. Mostly, Germans greet without too much physical contact, although it depends on the circumstances concerning the relationship or for how much time they have not seen each other.

GREETING IN IRELAND[edit | edit source]
  • Meeting people for the first time

When meeting someone for the first time in Ireland, it is imperative to maintain a person's bubble as the Irish dislike strangers invading their personal space. The typical greeting for a stranger is a handshake with the greeting Nice to meet you. The other person will then respond with a simple You too or Pleasure.

  • Acquaintances

When greeting acquaintances or neighbours, the conventional greeting is say Hello or Hi and gossip about anything new occurring in your lives. However, it is not unusual to hear What´s the craic? or What´s the story? being exchanged when walking down the street. This is just another way to inquire about something new in a person's life. When passing on the street, it is usual to wave, nod or smile as a greeting.

  • Academic and professional settings

When greeting someone in a professional or academic setting, it is conventional to shake hands or wave to a colleague, boss or professor. In the Irish context, the use of informal address forms is rather common. Therefore, while one may be addressed quite formally as Mr. Smith, it is more common to address most of people by their first name. For colleagues of all levels it is perfectly okay to refer to them by their first name.

  • Friends & family

When greeting friends and family in Ireland it depends entirely on what the specific person is comfortable with. Generally speaking, it is usual to hug friends and family members in greeting and once again in farewell. For some people they still appreciate keeping their personal space, and some destroy boundaries altogether and kiss their friends and family. It is also typical in Ireland to insult a friend or family member and show your affection that way.

GREETING IN PORTUGAL[edit | edit source]

A kiss as a standard form of greeting in Portugal
  • Meeting people for the first time

In Portugal, greeting someone for the first time can be confusing. Usually, the way the Portuguese behave in these situations depends on the context and how their interlocutor is introduced. This mostly happens because of the distinction between T and V-forms in Portuguese language, something that can lead to awkward situations in which people only avoid addressing their interlocutor. Under informal circumstances (young people meeting another friend's friend, someone older addressing to someone younger) it is normal for the Portuguese to kiss twice and to treat the interlocutor by their first name, even though T or V-forms can be used depending on the situation, especially between adults, while in more formal ones the rule is to shake hands, between men or women and to call the interlocutors by their academic degree or only by Senhor (Mr) or Senhora (Miss or Mrs), using the V-form. In both situations, formal and informal ones, the greeting is Olá, prazer em conhecê-lo! (Hi, it is a pleasure to meet you!).

  • Acquaintances

As always, greeting an acquaintance is also a complex process in Portugal – age and academic degree are often considered, if not always. Business partners use to shake hands; non-professionally related two women or a man and a woman can kiss twice on the cheeks, while men always shake hands; children are always kissed twice.

  • Academic and professional settings

From elementary school until the end of high school, the Portuguese teachers usually call the students by the T-form and their first names. On the other hand, students always call teachers professor and their first names, except in elementary school, when it is acceptable for little kids to only call their teachers by their first names. However, university teachers prefer to address students using the V-form, even though only using their first names (with no need of Mr, Miss or Mrs). Apart from elementary school teachers and students, who share a more emotional bond, there is almost no physical contact between both parts. In working places, colleagues can be called using T-form our V-form, always depending on their age and position in the hierarchy. If colleagues occupy rather distant positions or have different academic degrees, the use of Mr, Miss, Mrs or academic titles can be considered, as well as V-forms. It happens a lot facing bosses, who usually prefer to be treated with the higher consideration given their academic degrees and, of course, by a V-form. However, there are always some exceptions to this rule.

  • Friends & family

For the Portuguese, physical contact is the norm when greeting both family and friends. Therefore, when meeting a friend or a relative (mainly parents or siblings) they kiss and sometimes hug. Overall, the Portuguese are more tactile when it comes to greeting friends and family members, whereas in other countries, especially from Northern Europe, people are more reserved in this respect. For the Portuguese, hugs and kisses are frequent on a daily basis, not only when greeting or saying goodbye, but also in random situations. The Portuguese also express their emotions often, as saying they love their parents or friends at the end of the day or when they are grateful for something important. When friends or family meet, they most likely ask for each other's kids or even the whole family, their jobs and usually its diseases (even a headache would be a discussable subject).

GREETING IN SLOVENIA[edit | edit source]

  • Meeting people for the first time

When meeting someone for the very first time, Slovenians will typically introduce themselves and shake hands, looking the other person in the eye. This may be followed by a Nice to meet you (Me veseli). Unlike in Portugal or Spain, hugging and kissing when meeting someone for the first time is not customary and should be avoided, as it may produce an uncomfortable atmosphere.

  • Acquaintances

In Slovenia, acquaintances usually greet each other with a simple Hello (Zivjo) or the more formal Good day (Dober dan) and a wave. When seeing an acquaintance in the street, it is not unusual to greet the person with a nod and a slight smile without saying anything.

  • Academic and professional settings

In academic and professional settings, Slovenians greet each other by smiling and saying Good day. Colleagues of the same professional level might be more informal with each other (saying Hello), but a considerable physical distance will typically still be maintained. Unless specifically given permission to do otherwise, Slovenians address their superiors such as college professors and bosses with the formal pronoun (Vi instead of Ti) and do not call them by their first name.

  • Friends & family

There are no hard-fast rules when it comes to greetings between friends. Close female friends, as well as close male-female friends, will often hug upon meeting each other, but this is by no means a necessity, as some friends will be satisfied with a simple Hi (and maybe a wave). Generally speaking, the level of physical contact between friends will depend on the individual relationship. Slovenians are slightly more prone to physical contact when greeting family members. They will typically hug and give each other three kisses on the cheek when greeting a family member whom they have not seen in a while. Family members who see each other every day, on the other hand, may not be so generous with physical affection. This is of course very personal and varies from family to family.

As a rule, one can survive in Slovenia without initiating any kind of physical contact with other people, with the exception of shaking hands. It is better to respect people's personal space and wait for them to initiate physical contact first than to be too invasive.

A formal handshake

OTHER SITUATIONS[edit | edit source]


When sending emails to university staff all cultures observed preferred to use formal language. It was remarked that in some of the countries (for example, in Portugal) university teachers must be addressed with their full academic title in any email; in Croatia and Slovenia, the use of a formal introduction to an email is implemented and signing off is always done formally.


People of the same nationality usually greet foreigners the same way they would meet people of their own nationality. Generally, it is common to shake hands and introduce yourself when meeting for the first time. But, physical contact is usually avoided in those situations. After interviewing some of our colleagues from Portugal, we found out that it is common for the Portuguese to kiss twice on the cheek when meeting other people. Furthermore, the Portuguese would not be too intrusive if they were not sure what the foreigners' customs were. Moreover, some of our Irish colleagues shared their experiences with meeting people of different nationalities, and they noticed that for example, Scottish people, who are usually more reserved, might also hug a foreign person whom they are meeting for the first time. Nevertheless, Scottish people would adapt to the cultural ways of the person in question. When it comes to communication with speakers from other cultures, majority of the students represented at our Summer School would start the conversation in English since it is the most commonly spoken language. In fact, English is used by one billion speakers around the world because it has achieved a lingua franca status, which was a result of the Globalization phenomena that occurred in the 20th century. English is used by both native and non-native speakers. In today’s multilinguistic and multicultural Europe, using English as a lingua franca does not inhibit linguistic diversity. On the contrary, it unites more than it divides, because it is viewed as a means of enabling understanding.[4][5][6].

SOME CONCLUSIONS[edit | edit source]

Through the analysis of the greeting strategies in the countries represented in our project, we have seen that greetings are an important aspect of any culture. Furthermore, according to the acculturation theory[7], those who are newcomers to a certain culture should adapt to the new ways of greeting in that society. However, the theory of Third Culture[8] also argues that one should not sacrifice one’s identity when coming in contact with another culture and that a happy medium can be achieved in communicating across cultures. Tolerance and openness is a key for a successful intercultural communication. When it comes to greetings, hospitality and politeness, different values between new acquaintances may result in a cultural clash, if certain social interactions are not carried out in accordance with the customs of a nation. This could, in turn, hinder the future development of that relationship. The high diversity of cultural and linguistic backgrounds in today’s changing European landscape requires constant intercultural sensitivity to a degree not normally experienced by mono- or even bilingual speakers in their native languages[9]. Through our own experiences we have found that in our intercultural encounters, culturally-considerate greeting can serve as a solid foundation for building long-lasting intercultural relationships. Intercultural communicative competence allows us to communicate despite and across national, linguistic and cultural boundaries, being also the first step to enriching our lives.

HOSPITALITY[edit | edit source]

Apart from different ways of greeting people, there are also certain differences as far as receiving guests is concerned.

The warmest welcome is to be expected in a Portuguese home. Normally, they would greet their guests with a warm hug and a kiss, engage in an informal conversation and offer them a drink, usually water or coffee, or something to eat. It is also alright to pop in unannounced, so making a specific appointment is not necessary. However, the formality of the greeting itself depends on the age and social status of the guests.

There are some similarities when receiving guests in both Croatia and Slovenia. To friends or family who come over more often they would usually just say a simple "hello" or "hi", whereas if someone you have not seen in a while came over they would greet them with a kiss and maybe a handshake. Normally, the guests will take off their shoes and in some homes they will be offered slippers. The host will also always offer a drink, like coffee or juice, and maybe a bite to eat. Announcing their visit is not of much importance, but usually the guests would phone to check if anybody was home.

Great Britain and Ireland have more or less the same practices when it comes to receiving guests and their hosts would start a casual conversation to greet guests. However, the British are more open to physical contact and they are more likely to offer a handshake. Both would also offer their guests something to drink or eat. The Irish would also be polite enough to receive guests who arrive unexpectedly.

Germany seems to be the most reserved nation in this matter. It is typical for most German homes to have an intercom system so that they can be prepared for their guests. For the most part relatives and friends would be greeted with a hug or a handshake with the exception being a more formal greeting for some family members. Mostly, Germans greet without too much physical contact, although it depends on the circumstances concerning the relationship.

All in all, apart from Slovenians and Croatians, who share similar hospitality practices, each of the other countries mentioned seems to have different customs when receiving guests and this must be taken into account.


When it comes to greetings, hospitality and politeness, different values between acquaintances may result in a cultural clash. If certain social interactions are not carried out in accordance with the customs of a nation, it might cause a bit of awkwardness and some might find certain ways of conduct insulting. This could, in turn, hinder the future development of that relationship. The high diversity of cultural backgrounds requires constant intercultural sensitivity to a degree not normally experienced by mono- or even bilingual speakers in their native languages [10].

All in all, greetings are a defining part of any culture and according to the acculturation model theory [11] those who are not familiar with the norms belonging to a certain culture should adapt to the new ways of greeting in that society. More tolerance is needed of other cultural mores and the practices of people, which can differ greatly from one cultural reality to the next.

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  5. Crystal, D. 2003. English as a Global Language (Second edition) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  6. Gnutzmann, C. (ed.). 1999. Teaching and Learning English as a Global Language. Tu ̈bingen: Stauffenburg
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  10. Mauranen, A. 2003. ‘Academic English as lingua franca—a corpus approach’. TESOL Quarterly 37: 513 – 27
  11., last accessed on August 8, 2013