This week I was reminded of how small cultural differences can make for awkward moments.
One is handshaking. In churches especially, but also in any social gathering in Mexico, you are expected to shake everyone’s hand and greet them when you enter an event. This would not be true at a place of business, but just about everywhere else.
Also, upon leaving the event you are expected to shake hands once again.
Many of us will enter a church here in the US and never think to shake hands with everyone. Typically we will hit a few casual friends and call it good.
I saw a lady today whom I have known for nearly 20 years. We were at church and I instinctively stuck my hand out to shake hers. When I did I realized something: close friends don’t shake hands in the US. That is not a hard and fast rule, but I am having trouble thinking of a time that I have regularly shaken hands with my very close friends. At the very least, you should not feel obligated to do so.
It seems like in the US we shake hands with acquaintances or people that we are meeting for the first time. It is almost a stale business gesture. Somewhat of a ritual, but not a warm action between friends.
My friend today seemed to take my shaking of her hand as a cold gesture. For me it was something I have become accustomed to while living in Mexico. Shaking hands is a very friendly gesture there, though it can also be used as an obligatory ritual.
Another cultural difference is the “excusing” of oneself from another individual. This has become more evident to me while visiting in the US for the last few weeks. When we finish a conversation in the US, it is not unusual for one party to just walk away. That is considered very rude in Mexico. You must ask permission to leave from a “one on one” encounter. Also, if you are at a social event, you are expected to excuse yourself from all the other individuals that you would consider your peers or those above you in the food chain.
You would never leave someone,s house without first shaking hands with the host or hostess and then asking for permission to leave.