Shake hands? Hug? Air-kiss? If you are not very sure about how to greet someone, it’s best to go by what you are most comfortable with

“Whatever you do, don’t shake him by the hand,” a friend warned by SMS early one morning, just as I was setting out for an interview. Alarmed, I rang the friend to find out how the gentleman would prefer to be greeted. “Stick to a namastey,” he said. “He’s always digging his nose, you see!” he told me, conspiratorially.

I’m terribly amused every time I recall this incident. But, matters of hygiene aside, I’m often truly stumped on the best way to greet someone… When the social context leaves space for ambiguities, and outside the very formal or very intimate spaces, what do you do? Do you fold palms and dip your head, or go all brisk and businesslike and shake the other person by the hand? If you’re of a more demonstrative bent, do you simply envelop a friend in a warm embrace, or, alternatively, follow fashion dictates and bump shoulders and blow air-kisses? A quick poll among friends threw up interesting answers…

“I prefer to greet people with just a hello and smile. You can pack enough warmth into a smile to substitute any physical contact,” says Sujata Tarakesan. As somebody who prefers cordiality sans contact, Sujata says nothing beats our hands-folded namastey or 'vanakkam'. “I would say it covers etiquette, elegance, dignity and hygiene in one shot!”

Parvati S. says she namastes often, especially if it is someone she doesn’t know or if it is someone she doesn’t wish to extend her hand to. “Sometimes, friends get a hug. But, by and large, I think a namaste is graceful and can be a warm greeting when accompanied by a smile,” she says.

Except, it’s awfully annoying, when you smile or greet someone and they respond as if you are just not there, says Sriman S. “I also detest limp handshakes or the ones where you’re barely shaking the tip of somebody else’s fingers,” he says, adding that a hug is his favourite form of greeting. “It’s warm, reassuring and energising!”

Madona Devasahayam too is a fan of hugs. “The dearer the person, the warmer the hug! I don’t think I dislike any greeting but I find air-kisses fake and pretentious,” she explains. “My hugs are usually unplanned,” says Arun R. “Often, it’s a surprise act where there is not much lag between the thought and the act. It happens with the few I feel intensely for; I walk towards them, extending my arm, but at that last moment decide to throw my arms open and embrace!” he says, adding eloquently that a hand shake — which can be formal, casual, detached or warm — still calls for verbal support, whereas a hug speaks.

Don’t fake it!

Vasudha V. reserves hugs for people she genuinely likes being with. “I love greeting people with a smile and an informal hey or hi. It’s an easy ice-breaker whereas hellos and good mornings seem very formal and tend to look very forced.” Uma Ramesh too typically sticks to a hi. “I hug very rarely; and I’ve air-kissed perhaps twice in my entire life!”

“I’m anti-air-kissing,” agrees Kamini R. “My bear hugs, though, are legendary. The funny thing is, earlier I was very shy to hug, but now, I’ve embarrassed many of my friends with hugs!” she laughs. “You know, you just expect some people to hug you, and when they do, you feel so warm and protected!” she says.

“Just for a hug, I sometimes long to meet old friends,” says Neeraja A. “Some say you can judge a person by their hand shake. I’m not sure about that, and anyway, I prefer a namaste for anybody but a good friend.” “If I have really missed someone, I give them a hug, but definitely not an air-kiss,” says Srividya Premsai. “If you really feel happy, give them a hug. Why air-kiss just to show off?” she asks.

Echoing similar thoughts, Sujata wonders at the rationale behind air-kissing. “Do we really prefer it? Or do we do it because it looks stylish? That makes it meaningless, isn’t it?” she points out. “And that’s why a kiss I received at a recent college function was so precious,” says Kamini. “My old teacher just pulled me towards her and planted a kiss on my cheek. It was an honest gesture, far removed from world of air-kissing.”