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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]

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 conducting a short survey amongst the different nationality groups it was discovered 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.

Edward T. Hall [1] developed the concept of “proxemics”, a description of how people behave and react in different types of culturally defined personal space. He emphasized the impact of proxemic behavior (the use of space) on interpersonal communication. In his work on proxemics, 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 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[edit]

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.


Family & friends[edit]
A fist-bump between friends

With regard to greeting family and friends it was found that in most of the examined cultures it is not standard practice to greet each other with a hug or kiss on a day-to-day basis, if at all. 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. All in all, oral greetings suffice for family, friends and groups of people. The same could be said for Ireland, where friends do not generally greet one another by kissing, but might greet one another with a brief hug or a kiss on the cheek for girls if they have not seen each other in a long time, while male friends may greet one another with just a simple nod. The same goes for greeting family members after being away from home for a long period of time.


A kiss as a standard form of greeting in Portugal

In Croatia the same practice applies and intimate hugs are avoided in most contexts. Physical contact is not perceived as a defining factor in a relationship but very close friends may greet with a hug or kiss more often. However, Croatian families sometimes clasp hands while greeting one another with a kiss. For the Portuguese physical contact is the norm when greeting both family and friends. In Slovenia using physical contact when greeting friends is restricted to those with whom they have some sort of emotional involvement. Within younger generations, male friends will probably fist-bump each other, while close female friends will receive a hug, but kissing is not a common practice. Concerning family, relatives might be greeted with a handshake or a kiss, but, again, this is an exception. In a group of British friends, however, it is more likely to get a friendly punch than a hug, even though the standard practice is also to avoid physical contact. Family relations tend to be a little more formal than those between friends, with the exception being really close family members, mostly children. Overall, the Portuguese are more tactile when it comes to greeting friends and family members and the other countries observed are more reserved in this respect.


Academic communication[edit]

A study on how values in the workplace are influenced by culture was conducted by Professor Geert Hofstede [4]. This theory is applied here to the student–professor relationship with a focus on the power distance index: the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions accept and expect that power is distributed unequally [5].

In Europe, power distance tends to be lower in northern countries and higher in southern and eastern parts. Cultures that endorse low power distance expect and accept power relations that are more consultative or democratic. People relate to one another more as equals regardless of formal positions. In high power distance countries, less powerful accept power relations that are more autocratic and paternalistic. As such, Hofstede's power distance index reflects the way people perceive power differences.

A formal handshake

When it comes to greeting unviersity teachers, the Germans will, 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). The Irish will generally wave or give a short "hello" to a university teacher, never addressing them directly or shaking their hand. The Croatians address their university teachers with a formal greeting and admitted to a lower level of formality when speaking to staff who are close in age to them. Age is, therefore, an important factor when it comes to choose the appropriate register in any given social setting. In Slovenia, all tutors and lecturers are addressed formally using the title of 'professor' regardless of their status as a mark of respect and the Portuguese also use the full title of their university teachers when addressing them. The British would simply "go with the flow" and use whatever title a university teacher would expect them to use, limiting physical contact and reverting to the use of a title such as "Sir/Madam" in most formal contexts.

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.


Foreigners[edit]

With most nations people greet foreigners like they would greet people of their own nationality. All of them would generally shake hands and introduce themselves when they first meet, but otherwise they would avoid physical contact. Although it is common in Portugal to kiss twice on the cheek, the Portuguese would not be too intrusive if they were not sure what the foreigners' customs were. Interestingly enough, Scottish people, who are usually more reserved, might also hug a foreign person they are meeting for the first time, but other than that they would adapt to the cultural ways of the person in question.

When it comes to verbal communication, all the countries would initiate the conversation using English as a lingua franca. This means that persons who do not share a common native tongue, nor a common (national) culture, would choose English as their “contact language” [6].

Having started as a national language, English has achieved a lingua franca status around the world, especially due to the Globalization phenomena occurred in the 20th century. It is essentially used by many people in a variety of different situations, which involve both native and non-native speakers. There are currently approximately 1 billion speakers of English as a lingua franca [7], because of its neutrality, with regard to the different cultural backgrounds of the interlocutors, potentiating inclusivity [8].

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.


Hospitality[edit]

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.


Barriers to effective intercultural communication[edit]

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 [9].

All in all, greetings are a defining part of any culture and according to the acculturation model theory [10] 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.


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_T._Hall, last accessed on August 8, 2013
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_space, last accessed on August 8, 2013
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proxemics, last accessed on August 8, 2013
  4. http://geert-hofstede.com/research.html, last accessed on August 8, 2013
  5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hofstede's_cultural_dimensions_theory, last accessed on August 8, 2013
  6. Firth, A. 1996. “The discursive accomplishment of normality. On lingua franca English and conversation analysis”. Journal of Pragmatics, no 26, pp. 237-259.
  7. Crystal, D. 2003. English as a Global Language (Second edition) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  8. Gnutzmann, C. (ed.). 1999. Teaching and Learning English as a Global Language. Tu ̈bingen: Stauffenburg
  9. Mauranen, A. 2003. ‘Academic English as lingua franca—a corpus approach’. TESOL Quarterly 37: 513 – 27
  10. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acculturation_model, last accessed on August 8, 2013