Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Shaking Hands

photo taken from: www.flickr.com/photos/wazari/2709020340/

In general, and as an alternative to western norms, Arabs prefer a gentle handshake rather than a firm grip. The reason being it is thought that firm grip suggests unnecessary aggressiveness.

Once inside the room you should shake hands with the most senior person first who will usually, but not always, be the host. You should then work your way around the room, shaking hands and kissing each person before sitting down and joining in the conversation. I’ve read you should move around the room in an anti-clockwise direction, but I never remember which way to go round a room and am presuming it doesn't matter that much.

Urban Legends
Some Arabs, both male and female, will never shake the hands of an unrelated member of the opposite sex. As a woman I overcome this by waiting for the man to offer his hand to be shaken. However, sometimes I forget and hold out my hand and find it refused. I'm not particularly keen on standing in public with my arm out-stretched, hand open in mid air, waiting for a hand which is not forthcoming. It's not particularly inspiring or amusing, but I do find it less embarrassing than I used to, however it still has the capacity to make me feel quite uncomfortable.

Photo taken from: AP Photo/Amr Nabil, as shown on: alphabetcity.blogspot.com/2007_04_01_archive.html

When I once asked an Arab business woman why she wouldn’t shake hands with men, or why ladies wore a black glove on their right hand when they knew they were going to shake hands, her reply was,
"Well, if I were to let a man shake my hands he could easily tickle my palm, or hold it for just that bit too long. And I know he would want sex.”

She continued,
“I do shake hands with members of the opposite sex because of my work. I know Europeans would find it very rude if I didn’t shake their hands, but if I can get away with not doing it, I will.”

When I contemplated out loud I’d never thought of shaking hands in that way before she replied, “Well now you have thought about it, you’ll always have it in your mind a man can indicate how he feels about you through shaking your hand.” ~I'm still not convinced!~

I was out with my husband and a very close friend of his. The friend was talking about his problems and the difficulties he was currently facing. Instintively I put out my hand to touch his and was surprised to feel him pull it away quickly. Not only did he pull his hand away, he pulled his entire body away too.

It took me several seconds to realise we'd approached what I had done from completely different viewpoints: I’d reached out to him and attempted to pat him on the hand saying, “It’ll be all right” and he’d reacted as entirely appropriately; there was no way he should, in any circumstances, be touching any body part which belonged to his friend’s wife.

A western friend told me this story,“I remember before we got married my husband and I had male acquaintances who we would chat with. However, when we got married some of them started to shake hands with my husband and completely ignore me. I asked my husband why this was happening and he explained they were showing respect for him by ignoring me!”


*~Ange~* said...

its just general respect.
being muslim first off we dont touch the opposite sex at all.
and second it is about respect... no one wants another man touching their wife and no woman wants another woman touching their husband.

wgaw said...

Ange, you're right of course. A Muslim is very unlikely to ever touch someone of the opposite sex. It's good for me to be reminded, sometimes I forget :-|

moodle said...

Thanks that was interesting. From a Western viewpoint it seems a little sad that humans can't touch each other in a friendly non-sexual fashion. It must be harder to have close friends of the opposite gender. I have muslim friends here in the UK that hug me as do their wives (they are of Turkish origin, perhaps it's different there)
If i come and visit I will try to remember not to shake hands just in case, but i bet i forget! ;)