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Thursday, 20 de November de 2014

Learning how to greet somebody is often the first step in studying a new language. In fact, most people can safely claim to know how to say "hello" and "goodbye" in many foreign languages without knowing how to say anything else in that language. 

But sometimes putting what you know into practice can often cause confusion, and sometimes even embarrassment! 

There are a number of differences in how people greet one another in Britain and Spain. Firstly, people in Britain are often much more reserved and awkward when meeting someone new. This can lead to all kinds of confusion. Should I offer to shake this persons hand? What if they don't want to shake my hand and I am left standing there holding out a lonely, empty, handshake-less hand. If we do exchange handshakes, how long is should we shake hands for? The truth is, no-body in Britain knows. Some urban legends report that handshakes between awkward British people have lasted up to 7 hours, because neither person was quite sure how to end the ordeal. 

Then there is the kiss-on-the-cheek. This is a method of greeting that Spanish people have perfected, but is yet to be mastered by the British. The problem is that there is no rule of thumb in Britain. Whereas in Spain, it is common knowledge that when a man meets a woman, or a woman meets another woman, they simply and swiftly exchange kisses on either cheek, regardless of whether they are well-acquainted or not. No hesitation, no confusion. In the UK, however, there is no such clarity. Exchanging a kiss on the cheek with someone you have just met would appear too forward, but it would be a permissible greeting with an old friend or a member of your family. But what about a member of your extended family who you are meeting for the first time? Usually this occasion would result in one person taking the decision to initiate a cheek kiss while the other person instinctively squirms away, only for a kiss to be landed square on the unwilling recipient's nose.

So, Spanish people are generally more advanced than the British in the art of physical greetings. But what differences are there in verbal greetings? One notable difference in the way people greet one another is simply a matter of saying either "hello" or "goodbye".

In Spain, saying "goodbye" in the street is the done thing when you see someone that you know. This practice, to a British person is very strange indeed and the first few times that I noticed this had me thinking: "wow, these people must really hate each other to say 'hasta luego' when they have only just crossed paths." But then again, they appear to be smiling and jovial...

You see, in the UK, it is polite to say "hello" to someone we know in the street, even if we don't stop for a conversation. In fact, saying "goodbye" would be deemed as rather rude. But on reflection, there is a nice logic to saying "ciao" when we see a friend in passing. Without wasting breath, it means: "Hi, nice to see you, but I really can't stop for a conversation. See you later!" It's a quick, simple and efficient. What's more, it eliminates the possibility of idle chit-chat when both people clearly have to be somewhere. Why have a conversation in the street when you can have a conversation over a cup of tea or a glass of beer? 

As The Beatles once sung: "I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello." Play us out lads... 
 
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