Shaking Hands

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat shake hands.
By Vince Musi / The White House [Public domain]

How do you greet people? Do you say hello, or shake hands? Tell us what you think. And then listen to today's Spotlight program on handshakes.

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Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight. I'm Liz Waid.

Voice 2

And I'm Joshua Leo. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1

How do you say hello? Do you greet people with a kiss? Do you place your arms around new people, with a hug? Or do you shake hands? Shaking hands is a very common greeting, especially in countries with an English history. In particular, it is common in business situations. But it is also easy to make a mistake in shaking hands. Today's Spotlight is on handshakes.

Voice 2

Indonesia, November 2010. United States President Barack Obama stepped off the airplane. His wife Michelle followed him. They were happy to be in Indonesia. They had many people to meet, and many places to visit. At the State Palace, a large group of government ministers met them, to greet them and welcome them to the country. They stood in a reception line. The Obamas greeted each person.

Voice 1

One of these men was Communication and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring. When Michelle Obama met him, she held out her hand. He took it in his hands, and they shook hands, up and down. They smiled at each other, and then she moved to the next person. It seemed like a normal, natural action, and everyone was happy.

Voice 2

But the next day, on the website Twitter, Indonesians began to question Minister Tifatul. He is known for his traditional Muslim beliefs. He shares these beliefs widely on the internet. And one of these beliefs is that he should not touch women who are not part of his family. So why had he shaken hands with Michelle Obama? Some Indonesians mocked Tifatul - they laughed at him because he had not acted within his beliefs. He quickly explained that he had no choice. There was no way to refuse the handshake without being very rude.

Voice 1

This was a simple handshake. But it had very different meanings to the people involved. Was it a greeting? A simple welcome? Or was it offensive? Was it wrong? The handshake was a very small part of the visit. It did not affect relations between the two countries. And yet many people were talking about it. It showed the power of this small ritual.

Voice 2

September 1993. A large crowd gathered in front of the White House, in the United States. It was a historic day. The crowd would witness the signing of a peace deal between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the PLO. Many groups had worked to develop this peace deal. It had taken years of preparation, and many peace talks. But were the leaders truly devoted to peace?

Voice 1

Yitzhak Rabin was the Prime Minister of Israel. Yasser Arafat was the leader of the PLO. Both men had agreed to attend. In front of the crowd, the foreign ministers signed the peace agreement. And then, the two leaders shook hands. It was the first time that the leaders of these two enemies had touched. The enemies had become allies - partners in building peace.

Voice 2

This meeting did bring a new peace in Israel-Palestine. Sadly, since that time, conflict has started again. It is difficult to imagine a similar handshake now. A handshake showed that peace and partnership was possible then. And we hope that it will be possible again.

Voice 1

These are examples of very important handshakes. But of course, most of the time, handshakes do not have as much importance as in that meeting. Most handshakes are a simple greeting. However, they are more common in some places than in others. As we said earlier, this is especially true in English speaking countries. In these countries, handshakes are common in every situation - when meeting a new person, or even when greeting someone that you have not seen for a long time. People also use handshakes to congratulate, or to say goodbye. Men and women shake hands equally.

Voice 2

In Asian countries, handshakes are used in business. But in other situations, there are other greetings. For example, in Thailand, people greet each other using the wai. A person holds his hands so that the palms, the inside of the hands, press together. Then, the person gives a small bow, bending at the waist. If the hands are closer to his face, the person is showing more respect. Similar gestures are used in India, Cambodia and other countries.

Voice 1

In Latin America, people shake hands. But they also may greet with a kiss. For example, a woman greeting another woman will kiss lightly on each cheek, and then shake hands. In some places, men may also greet this way, but it is not as common. Cheek kissing is common in many other parts of the world too, but it is slightly different in each place. For example, in Greece, two people may kiss twice, one kiss on each cheek. But in parts of France, people will kiss four times!

Voice 2

There are also different kinds of handshakes to give. For example, have you considered how hard or soft to hold the other person's hand? In Asian countries, it is common to have a "soft" handshake - to hold the hand lightly, and only move up and down a small amount. But in the United States, people have a harder handshake - they hold the hand more tightly, or firmly, and shake up and down more. In Latin American countries, people may feel that a handshake that is too hard is hostile. But a handshake that is too soft may communicate weakness.

Voice 1

So, if you are shaking hands, how do you know the best way to communicate a simple greeting? Do you use a hard or soft handshake? Do you hold with both hands, or just one? Do you kiss? Or is a handshake not the right thing at all?

Voice 2

There are a few ways to know what to do. You can start by asking questions like these. What do you know about the person you are greeting? Where are they from? If they are from another culture, do not be worried if they greet in a different way. Just follow what they do. Sometimes, you can look to your host - the person whose home or business you are in. How are they greeting?

Voice 1

But if you make a mistake, do not worry. And do not judge too quickly if someone else makes a small mistake. The important thing is the greeting, and the feeling behind it. The greeting is just the first step in your meeting. Not every handshake is the center of a peace agreement, or a statement of belief. The most important thing is your friendly attitude!

Voice 2

How do you shake hands? Write and tell us about your experiences. Our email address is Or, you can write to us on our website at

Voice 1

The writer of this program was Christy VanArragon. The producer was Joshua Leo. The voices you heard were from the United States. You can hear more Spotlight programs at This program is called "Shaking Hands." We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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How do people commonly greet people in your culture? What is your favorite way to greet people?


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said on January 25, 2012

I like soft handshake because it makes me feel comfortable and closer . I find that handshake is an official greeting .

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Mai Ngoc Ha
said on January 26, 2012

Shake hands is one of the most important to communication. If we can follow the cultule of others. It will be make easily to discussion.

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said on February 02, 2012

In Vietnam, the handshakes are not as important as attitude. Sometimes, the handshake shows truly sometimes it is not, but the handshakes are popular in my country.

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Andrew von Truszczyński
said on March 06, 2013

There is tradition in Poland men kiss woman’s hand.  First a woman holds out her hand to handshake.

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Thuy Diem
said on March 07, 2013

When I attended a job interview at the company where I am working now. I shook hands with the interviewer who is a Korean and one year older than me. She was so surprised at my action and laughed. It made me feel uncomfortable and nervous but I understood it was a cultural difference and regained my self-confidence instantly. Three months later, in a friendly talk at the rest time, she asked me why I shook hands at the interview. I just explained it was a polite way of greeting. And she told me the reason why she was so astonished, she said she thought Vietnam was an Asia country and hands shaking was not common in Vietnam. She thought in Vietnam, people greet by bending body like in Korea.

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said on January 03, 2015

i think handshake is one of the most important to comunicate with others or serious situations . In my country , handshake usually does in offical situation . And we appreciate the attitude than a shake hand . We can smile or nod head to greet with someone . Its a common way to do .

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said on August 27, 2019

I,m from Oman which is as a galf country.
As a Muslim greeting is the same which mentioned in the broadcast. But the most important while greeting we have to say alsalam ealaykum which mean ( peace upon you). And our parents, we should with handshakes kiss there hand and head which mean more of respect.
Regarding the relationship between men and foreign women is not allowing to touch her only say alsalam ealaykum.
And there is different situations of greeting depend on if there is a special day or coming from travel so we use hug, kiss cheek three times and at the end kiss nose to nose.

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said on August 27, 2019

Hello everybody, this topics are importan because increase our knowledge.

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said on August 29, 2019

In Vietnam, shaking hands is not a common way in daily situations. People usually shake hands to greet each other in the working environment, business and political meetings.  People mostly do not greet with a kiss. They also rarely place their arms around new people. They seem to give a hug with just family members or people that they’ve known for a long time.

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on August 30, 2019

From .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To spotlight program
Subject to answer the question below
Date Friday 30, August 2019
São Paulo city - SP Brazil

Dear Christy VanArragon, Joshua Leo, and Liz Waid

Thank you for producing more one great article for us Brazilian people and other people around the World.
Question 1 - How do people commonly greet people in your culture?
Answer 1 - Here in my country Brazil people greet each other with handshake, hug, and kiss on the cheek.
Also, we wave our right hand, from side to side in the air to say hello, hi, for greeting someone or when we left a place we use it to say goodbye to someone that we know his or her very well.
However, handshake is a very formal way to greet someone. It is used when we do not know that person very well or when we meet that person at first time.
Question 2 - What is your favorite way to greet people?
Answer 2 - My favorite way to greet people is to wave my right hand, from side to side in the air to say hello, hi, or goodbye. In my Portuguese language it is called “CHAU”.
Your regards,
God Bless you
Severino Ramos

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said on September 01, 2019

Shake hands is a very fast method of greeting in our community.

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said on September 06, 2019

Thanks! It is good for English study.