Greeting Rituals: English Lesson 3

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Last post I touched on my experience with meeting people in England, which starkly contrasted the customary greeting rituals ingrained in me during my Texas upbringing: big smiles, hearty handshakes, high-pitched voices (if you’re female) and an obligatory exchange of what your names are, what you do and where you are from. These three basic questions are just as natural as saying “hello” and “nice to meet you.” The entire ritual should be performed in a very kind and slightly bubbly manner.

For weeks as I met people in various social settings, I was disappointed no one extended their hand or acted thrilled to see and meet me. And they usually only asked one or non of the Big 3 Questions. Their greeting, in my experience, most often consisted of a head-nod of acknowledgment and a slight smile. Eventually I began to wonder if my way of greeting appeared over-the-top or not genuine.

Kate Fox devotes an entire section of her book to the English greeting ritual. She states, “The ‘brash American’ approach: ‘Hi, I’m Bill from Iowa,’ particularly if accompanied by an outstretched hand and beaming smile, makes the English wince and cringe.” Now you tell me! After I did that to every person I ever met whilst overseas. Just replace “Bill from Iowa” with “Andrea from Texas” and I exemplified brash Americanness.

But I think I know what Fox is getting at. The English logic behind their reserved way of greeting is perfectly, well, logical: “I don’t know you, so why would I wag my tail and jump up on my hind legs when meeting you for the first time?” I don’t have an answer for that question. I wonder if we, as Americans, don’t really make sense. In a way, we move backwards. We are very kind and outgoing when we meet someone, but may not care if we ever see that person again, or may have no intention of following up. Our big smiles do not accurately reflect our hopes for our relationship with that person.

Whereas the English seemed to grow warmer with time. Maybe they don’t seem especially kind upon meeting, but they get more and more excited to see you as they get to know you, and show it accordingly.

It’s strange–I’ve completely returned to my comfortable and customary greeting rituals since returning to the States, but I find myself respecting the English way of greeting a little more. I’d love to know your thoughts.

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  1. Kenny Hard on May 23, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    Your blog is really cool! This entry is great. I’m from Brazil and I love languages. I started to study British English last year. I read many articles and I listen to podcasts for English learners. Anyway, it’s amazing read texts of people who have been there, in England. Congratulations, Andrea!

  2. ashleynashville3 on May 24, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    so true. i think my girlfriends and I practically run up and hug each other as a greeting, even if we just saw each other 5 days ago. this weekend, i hung out with an old high school friend I hadn’t seen in a year. First I stood on my tip-toes and yelled his name several times and waved over people’s heads. Then when he was finally let into the bar, I literally ran to him, gave him a bear hug and then he pulled back and shook me around for awhile.

    pretty normal greeting.

    the English would be cringing!

    • andrealucado on May 24, 2010 at 4:26 pm

      Hahaha! I can totally see you doing this and would love to see you try this in an Oxford pub–THAT would be entertaining 🙂

  3. katieleigh on May 28, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    This is so true. I felt awkward when meeting people in the UK – even if I did tone it down – but all the friends I made did grow warmer with time. Especially the people at church – I think the warmth of St Aldates really stood out because people tend to be so reserved elsewhere in Oxford.

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