Business and Personal Etiquette in India: Greetings, Hand Shakes and Kisses

Every country in the world is different.  What is considered “normal” behavior in one country could be shocking or seemingly progressive or seemingly conservative and out of this world to another country.  Since moving to Bangalore I have had to change some of my habits because here they are mostly considered inappropriate behavior.  One “bad” habit that I actually QUIT 100% over the past couple of months is – happily – coming back to life again and that is kissing, kissing, kissing!  I am so happy about that too!

You can’t imagine the change I experienced in moving from Barcelona to Bangalore.  You see, in Spain everyone kisses.  Men with men, men and women, women with women….even groups of kids.  Whenever you greet someone, even in many business situations, you give two kisses.  You start with your right cheeks, then switch up to the left.  When you meet up with your mates, your family, the owner of your favorite restaurant, etc, you kiss them to say hello.  In a business environment I would kiss the team from my PR agency whenever we had a meeting, my photographer and models I’d use for shoots, and my freelance video guy.  At work I would kiss my team mates if we hadn’t seen each other in days or after a holiday break… of course this is especially nice when I had a smokin’ hot boss, haha.  Everyone kissed.  Every day.  Throughout the day.  It was great.

But here in India it is inappropriate to kiss in public, kissing scenes are removed from imported TV shows and films … in fact, a colleague of mine told me that she and her husband have never touched or kissed in front of their son or their family.  It’s just really different here.

RANDOM TIDBIT: In Europe, you can get into a bit of trouble when you kiss an Italian because they kiss from left to right instead of right to left.  I don’t know how many times I have almost accidentally kissed someone on the mouth because I go right, they go left and that sort of left us in the middle, haha.  It’s funny but it can definitely be a bit awkward!!

Two kisses is such a nicer way to greet people than the cold American handshake that’s for sure!  And although the gesture might seem intimate to some cultures, the kisses are not sexual in nature nor intimate.  Even straight guys kiss, so that should put it into perspective.  I miss the two kisses quite a lot actually.  So I am so happy to see that most of my new friends in Bangalore are Two Kissers.  For just a few seconds it makes me feel like I am back in Europe.  I also like that the guys in our group are huggers too, to be honest.  Being alone here without anyone to snuggle up to gets as lonely for me as it would for anyone, so I love it when my mates give me big bear hugs.  Especially my tall friends.  It’s nice.

But here in Bangalore I can’t imagine kissing anyone besides my friends under any circumstance.  I think my work mates would think I had lost my mind if I walked into work on Monday and started two-kissing them as I walked in.  And if I kissed my marketing manager, who is a man….my oh my I bet the rumors would start flying.  It’s just not done here.

The guy on the right cracked me up because he really tried to snuggle up to me when we were posing for the snap. He didn’t have any issues with touching me in public! haha

When I first arrived I made an effort to not even extend my hand when the impulse hit me to shake hands with a male colleague or business contact.  This was an etiquette rule I had read online somewhere.  But I realized quite quickly that it is actually ridiculous to worry about something like that in Bangalore.  I think it’s difinitely still good advice for me to follow when I am in more remote locations but as a rule here in Bangalore everyone in the business world is very cosmopolitan so it is unnecessary for women to act in this way.  We can reach out to shake hands just like a man in Bangalore, which rocks.

So admit it!  We all enjoy a good kiss or two but it can most definitely lead to trouble or awkwardness.  A couple of nights ago I went up to a good friend of mine and gave him two kisses in front of loads of people.  For me this is 100% normal and to be honest I didn’t think twice about it.  Well later on in the evening I heard two different people introduce me as his girlfriend.  Haha!  Now I can’t be sure that I was labeled the girlfriend because of the kisses or not but I bet it helped 🙂

And last night I met up for dinner and drinks with one of my three expat mates in Bangalore.  He brought a colleague with him and when I went to two-kiss them it was definitely awkward and I regretted it sort of straight away.  One turned his face so much I almost kissed his ear and the other guy just gave me a big hug, haha.  Ahh, bless!

I don’t imagine that I’ll be revolutionizing the two-kisses scene here in Bangalore but I definitely like the thought of it 🙂

XOXO from Bangalore

© Angela Carson and Angela’s Adventures in Bangalore blog and photos, 2011

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Angela Carson

At 21 I left uni, jumped into my Jeep Wrangler, and drove from my native California to live an adventure in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I've explored 32 countries on 4 continents, residing in 7 of them (currently Kuala Lumpur is my home). By day I'm a digital nomad and by night I'm a passionate storyteller. I even have a private pilot's license and was shot at once by bandits!
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30 Comments on “Business and Personal Etiquette in India: Greetings, Hand Shakes and Kisses

  1. I dont mind kisses . . .
    But I must admit that A Good Warn Tight Hug is one thing that I longed for while, I was single at London for over an year.
    It is certainly not sexual, its just Nice!

    And Angela, Honestly you are too good a Writer! Once again a perfect read.

  2. I love you so much for that comment I could hug ya 🙂 And funny thing, a hug feels WAY more intimate to me than a kiss because of my time in Spain. I am not a big hugger but I do indeed like to receive them. — Thanks, ang

  3. Hi Angela, its actually not appropriate in Indian culture for a man to stand as close as the one is standing to you in a photo if you are not related or close friends. They see you as a “loose gori” – sexually liberated European – and are hoping to get lucky. You have to be a bit cold towards men in India otherwise you will find yourself in sticky situations. Sad but true. You can be open and friendly only with Indian men who are more global and modern. Even we Indian women have to make the distinction.

    • Hi, yes I am 100% in tune with everything you have said and have experienced the perceptions of the Indian men time and time again for someone who has been here such a short time. “Western” women ARE much more sexually liberated, which for me is normal because for us it is normal. Indian men definitely do their best to make our acquaintance and try to make a date with us, especially the married ones (which always annoys me).

      I appreciate your advice…I am trying to be more “cold” but it’s really hard to stop being ME just because I live in Bangalore. Baby steps 🙂

  4. Oh dear me Angela,
    Like the above poster mentioned Iin India you can’t be standing THAT close to any men that you aren’t related to or whom isn’t your husband! No going about the countryside bare legged like in that picture either! For shame! Scandal will ensue, (Indians love malicious gossip even more than most folks.)
    You’ve been forewarned. 😉

    From a former Californicator (like you whom) is now married to an Indian

    • haha, yeah that little guy was a snuggler, bless him. Made me laugh to be honest. And I’m not sure if I’d call the Taj Fisherman’s Cove in Chennai the countryside but it sure is pretty, right?? 🙂 I haven’t travelled outside of the urban jungles of Bangalore, Chennai or Goa… but look forward to it sometime and I will dress accordingly and try to ward off snugglers 🙂

      • That’s just it though, Angela, you can’t “laugh” at situations like this when you’re in them because laughing is interpreted as an invite! You can laugh later with your friends or blog followers, but really, in the presence of most Indian men, a formal demeanor is the best to ensure your safety and sanity.

        Believe me, we Indian women can be quite rude to these guys – and we are!

        • You are too right, and in most circumstances I do agree with you…. but I still believe in reading people and gut instincts and I just can’t stop being the person I have been for 40 years overnight. That little snuggler was very kind and sweet, plus I had a huge male friend accompanying me so I was definitely safe from those 2 tiny guys 🙂

  5. Hi Angela! I am from Valencia, spending 6 weeks here in Bangalore, mainly business, and read you article “kiss me Kiss me”. I found it quite amusing and interesting and as I was reading it I could see myself having the same problems when meeting people outside Spain.
    I currently live in London so you can imagine!

    • OMG entonces podemos juntar y hablar en spanish? Si esto es posible me harias super feliz porque no tengo a nadie aqui con quien puedo hablar!!! Mandame un email a angeladcarson (at) gmail (dot) com si te interesa … Y gracias por dejar el comentario, muy amable de ti 🙂 Saludos y espero hasta pronto! — angela

  6. Hey Angela,

    These days two – kissing thing is common among younger gen, n esp with the call centers around, its quite normal. Most of these actions are followed through bollywood. Its def fine if you’d greet someone in that way as long as they reciprocate.

    To a certain extent I agree with Sanatani but not to everything she has mentioned. Again its individual’s interest and you are the best person to decide for yourself. Preconception for others is the worst attitude an individual can carry.

    Take care…. 🙂

  7. Pingback: You And Me Drink Like Night And Day « Angela's Adventures in Bangalore

  8. Hey Angela,

    The Western practice of kissing or hugging anyone is form of greeting anyone. In most of Europe, Canada and United states it is normal to see people holding hands or kissing in public or hugging in public. In India we greet people by shaking hands and Indians consider that lip kissing outside the families is bad as mouth is the place where one can pass contagious disease through mouth and saliva. It is regarded as unclean also because of people bad habits such as smoking, drinking liquor etc. In India smoking is banned. Kissing or smooching in public is popular in West but not considered very well in India. Love and affection in Indian tradition is considered sacred, holy, sanctified something which if you express publicly, diminishes in its value. Expressing love should be deep in our hearts not just like a habitual thing like western world. We Indians truly value a kiss, and maintain its importance by reserving some privacy for it. It’s not about tradition or culture it is just the basic decency and respect. We believe that Animals kiss and display affection in public but it’s not necessary for a human to be that way. It is not a gesture to show in public like animals. India preaches is to confine all intimate relationships within closed doors. In India, the Supreme Court of India has described Public display Affection to be in bad taste and an unacceptable act, which may be considered an act of public nuisance, and sometimes leading to conviction and/or fine from the involved parties. Affection is a private and intimate affair. Its public display is a reflection of immaturity and insensitivity of the partners towards each other.

    Unless you happen to be in ‘Westernized Indian’ circles or in the company of people in the glamour industry such as models and beauty queens Kissing and Hugging is common as some of the Indians adopt from western countries when they live in western countries.

    • Hi Tarun, First, thanks for adding to the conversation, you have some interesting comments for sure, and some very different opinions to me.

      Where do you live? I find your comment about smoking interesting since it is legal to buy and smoke cigarettes and other tobacco products here in Bangalore.

      I think there is a strange double standard for what is considered “affection” as you state it here. For example, men and women should not cuddle, wrap their arms around each other or hold hands in public — that is VERY unacceptable. However, 2 men can do all three of those things and that is okay BUT if a man and woman are “just friends” or brother and sister, it is still not okay only because one is female. So for me, I find it hard to understand why men can do anything they want but women can not.

      I suppose you are insinuating that I am an animal (ouch!) but I can assure that I am not, nor are my lovely Indian or foreign friends who greet me with a kiss here. They are a diverse group of entrepreneurs, healthcare workers, advertising executives, actors, business owners, music composers, engineers, bankers, politicians, indian housewives, land owners, cricketers, etc… none are beauty queens or models as you assume. I think many people who travel internationally or work in an international environment have adopted the European way of 2 kiss greeting. It is NOT an American thing as Americans, like you, shake hands (as I wrote about).

      I’ve said it before and I will say it again… thank goodness we are not all the same because life would be very boring. I’m happy for the cultural diversity I’m experiencing (although being called an animal today was a bit unexpected). –angela

  9. Are there any cultures that actually lip kiss you? (in a non-sexual way) Reminds me of the time when I was visiting a remote town in FL and I ran into this southern lady who actually kissed me on my lips (no tongue..lol) when I met her. Now, I grew up in India and I couldn’t figure out if it was the southern hospitality or maybe she was high on something. I was somewhat grossed out and offended because I like my space, but she didn’t seem to think it was a big deal and was quite sweet about it. Safe to say, the next time I met her, I gave her a big hug before she could “molest” me again. -)

    • Hmmm… lip kisses, not very common. Just amongst really close friends. I’m talking about standard 2-kiss greetings 🙂 Ummm, and good job with the hug to prevent the old gal from kissing you again! Ange

  10. Hahahaha! Awesome reading your blog…. ok so in US one gets arrested for peeing in public, here its no big deal…. but kissing can actually get you on the wrong side of the law. Wierd eh! “Yehh hai India meri jaan” You can use Google translate for that 🙂

    • Too true!! I find it so fun to compare the life that I’ve always known to the life that I experience here. And all of the new rules in Bangalore certainly give me lots of fun topics to write about 🙂 Cheers, thanks for commenting! -Ange

  11. Angela, I just love your broad-mindedness. You are really a very positive person.

    • Thanks so much! And yes, I am quite broad-minded and generally positive but like anyone I have my moments of frustration too … but it’s more fun to try to understand and appreciate the cultural differences than to complain and bitch about them 🙂

  12. This is really interesting to read one alien’s thoughts and experiences. Well I think Indian culture is really complicated. As many times I find myself confused what can be done and what can’t be done at public places. I think Its all depends what kind of people( with their mindset) are around you at that time.

    • Hi Nitin … thanks for commenting. For me, generally speaking, I would say it is more the kind of place I’m around at that time, not the people. Glad to hear a different opinion though 🙂 Cheers, angela

  13. And you certainly don’t touch a man’s arm or shoulder..forget the rumours, they will more often than not, misunderstand you. And most men here do find a fair face from a foreign country to be an easy catch..so don’t take their jokes and funny prods for granted..an Indian woman’s perspective to you.

  14. Nice article Angela. In India we avoid PDA because most people tend to stare.. God knows what is running in their mind.. I got my fair share of Foreign culture when i stayed in Australia for Two years during my Post Graduate studies.

    “Two kisses is such a nicer way to greet people than the cold American handshake that’s for sure! ” i agree with you 100% on this.. It helps to break the wall that people surround themselves with and help build bridges.. Finding an Indian smile at one and another is by itself a rare occasion.. Even at times, A safer Handshake is also scary as some have very poor hygiene 🙁 you know what i mean..

    • Thanks so much! Funny about the hand shaking but this is where I rock in India because I don’t buy into the whole hygiene problem and I am probably too relaxed about all of that. I don’t sterilize my veggies and fruit when I buy them, I rinse them, chop ’em and that’s it! And I love eating in seemingly dodgy spots that friends of mine won’t go to 🙂 Don’t know why but I just think I’m destined to die one day from something bigger than a germ 😉 Fingers crossed this doesn’t come back to bite me on the bum! hehe -angela

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