“I wouldn’t kiss Danielle, but I always bisou her husband. And Lauren and I hug at coffee dates but I think kiss at other events.”

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These are things expats say. I know because we discuss them regularly in various circles. How do we greet each other… and why on Earth do we do it that way? Every interaction with another expat takes into account three factors: my home culture, their home culture and the culture and level of formality of the event where we are greeting each other.

Some cultures greet with a handshake, others with a (wimpy or bear) hug, or kisses on both cheeks, even three cheek kisses (hallo Dutch buddies!), some just a casual head-nod-wassup. And let’s not forget the religious who do not touch members of the opposite sex, but instead opt for a polite clasping of their hands at the chest to acknowledge and greet you. These make for an interesting mix when you toss them all together.

In Expat Land, when two people cross paths the odds are good that there are at minimum two cultures in play. So whose culture ‘wins’? How do we decide if I’m going to hug Lauren but bisou-kiss her husband on the cheeks?
I have good news and bad news, mes amis.

The bad news is that there are no set rules that apply to every social situation.

The good news is that man-to-man, a handshake is a solid bet; man-to-woman you can lead with a handshake but be prepared to get pulled in for kisses on both cheeks (safe to assume you go right first); and woman-to-woman you can lead with cheek kisses and if it one of the women is American it may wind up as a hug before it’s all said and done.

As for the triple-cheek-kissers, they seem pretty aware that their way isn’t the most common, which means you get major points for hanging in there and initiating kissing all the way right-left-right!