Volunteer Capital Centre (VCC)

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cultural greetings while volunteering in Europe

Amongst both men and women in Europe, the most common form of greeting is the handshake, it may be a different form of handshake in different areas for example in Germany or England, but in a formal setting you can never go wrong with a firm handshake for a brief moment before you let go. One can go an extra mile with eye contact; however it may be discouraged in some parts of the continent like Turkey, where you may be expected to look down as a sign of respect. Be careful to address the people that you are meeting with their formal tittles, wait for an invitation from the local person before you may refer to them in a first name basis. This is necessary to avoid any misconceptions of disrespect between you and the locals.

When in Europe a volunteer may be fortunate enough to run into royals, in the event of such a scenario it will help you to observe a number of protocols, for instance not to speak until spoken to , wait also for the royal to stretch their hand out for a hand shake before offering yours. From the meeting point onwards, use the formal address, e.g. Ma’am or Sir. In this situation it is common for men to bow and for women to curtsy in front of the royals as a sign of respect.

That aside the issue that brings on the most contention when it comes to greetings in Europe is the cheek to cheek kiss in different regions of Europe; however, we also have kissing the hand practiced in some parts of the continent. Hand kissing is mostly done by older men to women as a form of greeting. Here are some guidelines that may come in handy for a volunteer working in Europe.

There are two forms of cheek kissing, lip to cheek or cheek to cheek kissing, depending on the culture in the area you are in. Cheek kissing in Europe is generally acceptable between women and men, women and women, men to men, and also between parents and their children. It’s preferable not to practice cheek kissing with a stranger, or during the first introduction, but an exception can be made to this rule in some parts of Europe like Portugal and Spain it is not unacceptable for strangers to cheek kiss.

Be conservative and try to be aware of what people are doing around you, because the number of cheek kisses vary in different countries and cultures around Europe, it may be just two kisses one in both cheeks like in Croatia or Bosnia, while in other countries like Serbia and Montenegro people cheek kiss three times, starting from the right cheek and ending again with the right cheek.

One more thing you may consider is hand kissing, practiced mostly in Austria, where older men like to kiss the hand of their female counterparts, however when observing this, be careful not to try it as it is not acceptable for male non Austrian citizens to kiss the hand of an Austrian woman. Here women may also kiss men but men never kiss other men.

When you have a general idea of the formal protocols and an idea of what type of cheek kissing or if any is practiced in the region you are volunteering, then all you need is the word to say hello in different countries and languages in Europe, and you can get the most out of your volunteer experience.

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