Saudi Arabia/USA: On Hugs and Kisses

universal greetings

I never noticed until being immune-suppressed how “touchy” a culture we have in America!  While we do respect personal space, think about what happens when a typical American meets someone new or is just greeting someone they know.  They shake hands, they hug, they kiss …. And they pat each other’s back!  Because I am immune-suppressed due to my cancer (I have a very low immune system which makes me extra susceptible to catching a cold or a virus) I am prohibited from the traditional contact.  When I go out to a public place I have to wear a face mask and sometimes gloves.  Ironically this still does not keep Americans away from wanting to hug and pat the back!

Whereas in Saudi Arabia, even when one is not battling an illness, there can remain a reserve and a no-man’s land or red line that is not crossed.  Men will shake hands with other men but probably not with other women.  Women will air kiss and then sometimes shake hands with other women.  There is not as much hugging as a greeting among either friends or strangers.

Why exactly do Americans like to hug and pat the backs of strangers?  If you don’t want that to happen to you, you don’t have to resort to wearing a mask or gloves, simply cross your arms over your chest when greeting someone.  This is a universal sign of greeting but without touch!


7 Responses

  1. My in-laws, Sudanese and Saudi both, are very hands on. Hugs are the order of the day. In KSA it’s not in public.I am a much more reserved Canadian but I must admit that the hugs are very nice and as a result I’ve become a little more hands on but certainly not to everybody.

  2. I am not a touchy feely sort, so naturally I married a woman who was. When I meet new people in a business or social situation I shake hands. If I have met them before I simply say hello or something like that. Now, if I am seeing someone who I haven’t seen for some time I will shake hands. Kissing and hugging, no!

    Many years ago when I was a young child one of my aunts had the temerity to try to give me a hug at Christmas, I blew a gasket. I don’t think anyone tried to touch me like that again.

  3. Arabs are among the most touchy feely group I have ever encountered. Very disconcerting when I first arrived to find strangers hugging and kissing me like family might do…when first meeting me. I actually find Americans much more reserved in this respect. I have friends that I have never laid a hand on in greeting n vice versa…and that’s perfectly normal in my world.

  4. How touchy-feely I am depends on who I’m greeting. Generally with my American friends, I give them a hug; with my Saudi friends, I either shake their hands or do the 3+ kiss thing; with my Italian friends, I give one kiss on each cheek; with different women at the Islamic center I go to I give anywhere from 1-3 kisses; and finally I hug my family. I’m a pretty flexible person when it comes to greetings.

  5. Regardless of the fact that I am Arab, I personally believe that there needs to be some sort of physical contact in a greeting. It is true all that you have said, but at times we do get overly touchy by hugging and all that, especially amongst friends and close relatives.

  6. ugh thats the typical indian thing too, hugging espe cilly when they see kids , they pick up the kids inspite of the squalling.. ugh i hate it. here in US im very happy, no hugging, kissing nad i rarely shake anyones hands,, a simple namaste for me folks, i keep my germy hands to myself you keep yours to yourself. win win for both of us.

  7. Hmmm, I’m not repelled by hugs at all.

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