How Greetings Change

With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God.  Stand fast in it.
She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark.  Greet one another with a kiss of love.
Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

  • 1 Peter 5:12-14

Greet one another with a holy kiss.
All the churches of Christ send greetings.

  • Romans 16:16

When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed.  They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him.  What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again.  Then they accompanied him to the ship.

  • Acts 20:36-38

“Isn’t it wonderful to serve a God of love, who is not afraid of affection!  Jesus probably hugged the disciples, especially when they were discouraged or weary.  People in His culture greeted one another with a kiss.
“Europeans give three alternating kisses on the cheeks of close friends and family and only one kiss to acquaintances.  Since we mainly work with immigrants, we deal with many cultures and had to learn several different greetings.  Our Russian friends give ‘bear hugs’ and two kisses, the Africans give three kisses starting on the left and our Middle Eastern friends only give kisses to same gender, but three times starting on the right!
“At one of the refugee centers, A. would make sure that all the other refugees came to welcome us.  One day, we started to greet our friends with their appropriate kisses.  By the time I got to A., I was so confused that I forgot to begin my kisses on the left and not the right.  I ended up kissing him full on the mouth!  His face lit up like fireworks, and he grinned.  I thought, Oh no, he thinks we are engaged!
“A. laughed and said, ‘My sister and mother used to kiss me all of the time.  You are like my sister, and it makes me think of my family.’  Who knew an accidental kiss would allow us to talk about the love of Christ?
“However, I try not to make that same mistake again, except with my husband!”

  • Jody, Western Europe, Oops, wrong kiss!, January 20 devotion compiled by Kim Davis with Beth Moore, Voices of the Faithful

I am so glad that I did not have to learn all those different greetings.  In an industrial setting, the customers were more cognizant of the American’s lack of kissing than we were of their means of greeting.  We bowed when appropriate and shook hands when appropriate.  We knew which countries did not wash their left or right hand – thus avoiding shaking that hand, even when it was uncomfortable to switch.

Most of the Asian companies had a ceremonial gift giving at the beginning or the end of the trip, especially since I was considered the venerable teacher.  The Chinese had a particular method of exchanging business cards.

The graphic is supposed to be my name in Chinese characters, phonetically, and my job title beneath it.  The watermark shows the old company name.  The company was purchased by a European company and no longer goes by that name.  Once during the ceremonial business card exchange, the other fellow exclaimed that we had the same last name.  I looked at him confused for a moment, but then I realized to get “Rackley” they combined three Chinese characters (I think the “R” was hard to get at the beginning of a character, a rolled “R” was supposedly used) and the last character was “Li.”  For the rest of the two weeks of training, I had a brother from a different mother.  Of course, some of my Chinese readers could tell me what the business card really says.

But when I read this devotion in our new COVID sensitive world, I wondered what is happening in these different cultures?  Rev. David Robertson has written and talked a good deal about how some cultures, like the Koreans, are used to wearing masks.  Forcing the rest of the world to comply has met with mixed responses.  There have indeed been clashes between cultures.  My first trip to China was at the tail end of SARS.  In the Shanghai subway, my partner and I were probably the only ones not wearing masks, but on the surface, practically no one wore a mask, and that was with virus that was starting to die off, but still around.  I have been in Korea, but I did not experience mask wearing there.

As for the deadly spread of the COVID virus in Italy, I can understand how it spread so rapidly.  In the USA, our comfort zone prior to COVID was about arm’s length from one another, but in Italy, it was less than half that distance.  Even when you did not shake hands or greet each other with a kiss, you were breathing on each other.

And our handshakes have gone to fist bumps or elbow bumps.  I am not used to either of those.  I even have difficulty showing my loyalty card through the Plexiglas wall between me and the checkout clerk.

I had enough of a hard time keeping up with the cultural differences before the pandemic.  I am blissfully satisfied in being retired now.

Yet, in learning the traditions of the visitors from other cultures, we can show our love for them by learning some of their culture, some of the little things like how they greet each other.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

3 Comments

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  1. Always love your posts on cultural differences, awareness and navigating between them as a Christian

    Liked by 1 person

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