What comes to your mind when you think of a possible problem with having friends all over the world? The language barrier? Naaah, facial expressions, gestures and, especially, alcohol help a lot in improving communication. You will be surprised, how proficient your language abilities become after having a couple of cocktails.
Cultural differences? Not that either. If I learned something from years of traveling is that deep down people are the same everywhere: our worries, our needs, our joys and aspirations are surprisingly similar no matter where we come from.
Always being far away? Well, yes, that’s a pain. Never knowing when and where you are going to meet next time sucks. But I’ve got a better one! The biggest problem is having to say hello and goodbye. And I don’t mean it metaphorically: meeting new people and letting them go in a couple of weeks or months, bla-bla-bla…
I mean it quite literally. You meet a person from another country and at the precise moment when you approach him or her for the first time, your mind starts racing and you break a sweat trying to figure out what’s the ordinary greeting in the country of his/her origin? Do you shake hands? Do you give a kiss or a hug? And if it’s a kiss, how many times?
Have you found yourself in a situation when you lean in for a kiss on the cheek and when you are about to withdraw you realize the person is trying to kiss you on both cheeks? And then you think: oh, ok, so it’s two kisses! And you go with it, but while you were thinking all that, the other person realized that you were only planning on one kiss and so he himself leans back while you are awkwardly trying to kiss him. And then you are stuck in this limbo of confusion, awkwardness and nervous laughs for good 15 seconds! How do you get out of it gracefully? You don’t. You just suffer through it.
I give one kiss on the cheek to my Russian friends, but sometimes you can make it three when you haven’t seen each other for a really long time. As I learned recently in a situation very similar to what I described above, French always give two kisses and on certain occasions they make it four (how long does it take you to say “hi!” to a group of friends, people?). And then my Brazilian friends give one kiss following it up with a hug, while many of my American friends just give a hug (how many times I ended up kissing somebody’s shoulder!).
It gets worse when you are meeting a group of people from different countries because this awkwardness is multiplied by the amount of people you greet. And even worse when you are changing several countries in a short period of time, because your body seems to be working on autopilot and doing whatever was acceptable at the previous destination.
I have a feeling, though, that confusion only occurs when women are involved. Guys are very straightforward; a simple handshake seems to be a universal gesture of greeting between men. But when at least one party is a woman: is a handshake too official? Is a kiss too personal?
But don’t worry! It all gets better once you are past those first 15 seconds and have the conversation rolling. It all goes up from here. You find connection, you might even feel like you found a soul mate, nay, a twin sister separated from you at birth! You couldn’t possibly be more comfortable in the presence of the newly found friend. Until you have to say goodbye and then the cycle of awkwardness repeats itself.
What do you think guys? Can you relate? Shall we come up with a universal gesture of greeting for international travelers?