Greetings, Valencian!

Inspiration for a Vulcan greeting

Inspiration for a Vulcan greeting

Back in June when I was facing the inevitable leave-taking from our Spanish friends, I looked forward to the time when I’d get to see them again. This week I got that treat–big European double kisses all around!

I won’t downplay my relief at having a respite, however brief, from the juggernaut of our New England winter storm parade (we’ll reach the milestone of 100 inches of snow this week). I would have been happy to be anywhere it wasn’t snowing for awhile, but I was especially glad to arrive in sunny Valencia, where a hoodie is all the coat you need (unless you’re out for a vigorous walk, and then it might be too much).

And it was great to show up at church and have a chance to greet people I’d grown fond of last year. For the most part, I had the drill down. Verbal greeting, lean in, veer left, touch right cheeks, make kissing noise, pull out, veer right, touch left cheeks, more kissing noises.

The only time I faltered was when Ana pulled me in for a hug, and I counted that as the right cheek press, so I went on to the left cheek press, when it fact the hug was just a bonus. Oh well. I didn’t look nearly as startled as nine-year-old Ninja had the first time a very cute teenage girl came in to do the whole routine with him. Deer in the headlights doesn’t do it justice.

This European double kissing really makes a foreigner feel welcome–though perhaps people who do it routinely don’t even think much about it. It does take some time, though. The extra few seconds don’t mean a lot when it’s just you and one other, but when a woman comes into the women’s meeting at church and has to do the double kiss with all 15 people there, those few seconds times 15 women plus travel time from cheek to cheek really add up–it can be hard to get a meeting going. Still, though someone might have something very important to say at such an event, I bet the benefits of all those affectionate physical touches are worth the time they take.

Having added to my stock of greeting traditions, I wanted to learn more about how people greet one another in yet other cultures. We have several friends at church in Massachusetts that come from Cambodia, so I’ve got some experience with that one–hands in prayer steeple, held in front of the nose and mouth, along with a slight bow; it’s called Sampeah, or សំពះ.


The Sampeah is similar to the Thai greeting, called wai, or ไหว้. Apparently, the higher the hands are held in relation to the face and the lower the bow, the more respect or reverence the giver of the wai is showing.

These two are related to the Indian Namasté (नमस्ते) greeting, the gesture for which is called Añjali Mudrā, or प्रणामासन. (You may wonder why I keep doing that–it’s not that I expect that I’ve got lots of readers familiar with Khmer or Sanskrit–I just really like the way these scripts look. Don’t you?)


A gesture I’ve seen in Hindu culture is that of someone, often a child, touching the feet of older family members as part of their greeting. That’s called Pranāma, or प्रणाम.


Of course, if we’re thinking about the world of Asian greetings, we can’t pass up Japanese bowing, o-jigi or お辞儀. Generally, the bow is from the waist, with men having hands at their sides, women with hands in their laps. There are lots of subtleties involved that affect the meaning of the greeting, including depth of the bow, and duration. It seems like the sort of thing that could use play-by-play commentary.

Wikipedia gives all kinds of other examples of greetings from other cultures, with surprising little tidbits, like the fact that in Oman, it’s apparently not unusual for men to kiss one another on the nose after a handshake. (There must be a protocol for which nose gets kissed first, otherwise it could get awkward.)

But to finish up I think I’ll come back around to an American gesture, and a little song by They Might Be Giants. (Warning–the song may get stuck in your head.)




3 thoughts on “Greetings, Valencian!

  1. Glad to see the slight reference to the sign of the Kohen (ie lineage of Aaron); and I bet you know Leonard Nimoy is of that I’ll, hence “live long…”.

    I was in a synagogue in Tzvfaat once and saw this, still extant, ritual. Rather awe inspiring.

    Beam me up!

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