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Replace Handshakes and Hugs with One of These Greetings

Two monks greeting each other in passing.
These guys are totally nailing greeting-at-a-distance. Radiokafka/Shutterstock

For the foreseeable future, maintaining social distance and not shaking hands or hugging is the new normal. So, how can you greet someone without breaking the six-foot barrier?

Aside from a nod or verbal greeting, you could tell everyone to “live long and prosper,” but not everyone can do the Vulcan salute.

Before the CDC recommended everyone stay six feet away from each other to avoid spreading coronavirus, people were already finding novel ways to avoid shaking hands. Some people tapped their feet together or bumped elbows, but now, even that isn’t recommended.

Let’s take a look around the globe for some alternate ideas.

Greetings From Around the World

A firm handshake or a hug might be the currency of social greeting in the U.S. and most western cultures, but it’s certainly not the only way to greet somebody.

In many other cultures, you don’t have to touch someone (and transfer your germs in the process) to greet them. Let’s look at some examples.


Thais have an excellent greeting you could adopt during this time of turmoil. Wai is a way to say hello, goodbye, thank you, and even I’m sorry. It’s a greeting of respect, so reserve it for those who deserve it (older family members, your boss or teacher, or people you serve). To do it, you hold your hands in prayer position in front of your chest and nod (see the video below).


In Japan, handshakes are also a common greeting, but people often accompany them with a bow, as well. You can adopt a bow as a greeting and leave out the handshake to maintain a safe distance.

There are different types of bows for different situations, including greeting a friend or a business associate, or to say you’re sorry. Watch the video below to learn three standard bows.


If you’ve ever seen the movie Seven Years in Tibet, you’ll likely remember when dozens of Tibetans stick out their tongues at Brad Pitt (see the video below).

It might seem like a quirky greeting, but it’s actually a centuries-old tradition. To prove they weren’t the reincarnation of a cruel king, monks would stick out their tongues. How did this prove that? Well, per the legend, the king was so cruel he had a black tongue!


In Zimbabwe, they greet each other with a form of clapping called “ombera.” It’s used to say hello and thank you, and men and women perform this clap differently. Women clap with cupped hands instead of flat palms to create a more muffled and delicate sound.

Interestingly, the louder the clap, the more respect you have for the person you’re greeting. Check out the video below to see how to do it.


Staying six feet apart is easy enough when you greet someone in Malaysia. To say, “Welcome,” they simply touch their hands to their hearts (like we do in the U.S. during the “Pledge of Allegiance”), and then slightly bow. Keep eye contact, and be sure to smile warmly! The video below will tell you all about it.

Just because we can’t shake hands or hug doesn’t mean we can’t greet each other warmly. Use any of these warm, safe gestures instead. You never know—you might even start a new trend!

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow is a professional writer with two decades of experience. She has written and edited for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and more. Yvonne is a published poet and short story writer, and she is a life coach. Read Full Bio »
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