To hug or not to hug? That was one of my first questions when I arrived in Germany. We may not give too much attention to some cultural habits of people from different parts of the world, but these habits might have a huge influence on how you connect and relate to different cultures.
As I am 100% Romanian, and furthermore a Romanian from the south of the country, I am used to an environment where people are extremely cheerful, talkative, excited and very close to each other. At home, one of the most common greeting habits is kissing on the cheeks or hugging. Although I’ve met a lot of internationals before, this happened mostly in Romania and, thus, it was a normal thing to show them how we greet each other. But when I found myself in a foreign country, where I would have to live for more than a couple of months, I realized that my Romanian greeting might put others in an uncomfortable position.
So, I wonder… what makes us reluctant to get closer to strangers? Is it age, sex, ethnicity, fear? Why is it that in some cultures people kiss each other on the cheeks, while in others they only shake hands or perform a simple bow with their hands to their chest? Do the same rules apply when greeting older people, such as our grandparents, or when greeting women or men? There are, probably, a lot of arguments lying behind these habits, most of them being related to tradition, history, religious tendencies and the root of every culture.
But what happens when different cultures collide? Which rule apply then? I have given it some thought and, taking into consideration that we mostly express ourselves through non-verbal communication (more than 80%), have come to realize that you can get a hint of others’ intentions or personal limits just by looking at them. A single move, look or body position can tell you if the other person will or will not agree with your greeting habit. It’s all about small details that we usually may not give much importance!
And to show you that human beings are one of the most interesting and complex creatures on this planet and that they can easily exceed personal boundaries if they are willing to do so, I will leave you with this video about Richard Ronaldi’s photography project – Touching Strangers. Why is it so easy to embrace others’ differences when posing for a photo, but not in our daily lives?