Socializing in Sweden: Handshaking and hugging

When you greet somebody you meet for the first time in Sweden, you shake hands. This applies to everyone; men and women; adults and children. Personally, I like it. I find the handshake very appropriate and convenient. In some countries you don’t do anything at all when you meet a person for the first time, you basically say “hi” and maybe introduce yourself. I always feel like that’s not enough, not completely satisfying in some way.

But from the time when you’re meeting someone for the second time, the rules get a little more complicated. If you’re both men, you still shake hands, but if one or both of you are girls, you hug. Cheek kissing, like you do in Italy for instance, is not common at all, and many people would be put off if you tried it.

What is the customary way to greet someone you meet for the first time where you’re from?

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25 Responses to Socializing in Sweden: Handshaking and hugging

  1. Leia says:

    I like the handshake, too, because I am not too keen on close personal contact with strangers. In South Asia, men and women who are not family members don’t usually touch each other, so there is no handshake or hug, which does lend itself to the awkwardness you mentioned when there is just a “hello.” Men shake hands with other men (if they are very close, they sometimes hug). Women sometimes hug each other and sometimes give each other two kisses (after meeting at least once, you would not do this with someone who you are meeting for the first time. For this, there is usually just the awkward “hello” and rarely a handshake). These days, young boys and girls who know one another greet with a hug, too, which I don’t particularly feel comfortable with because as I mentioned I prefer close personal contact only with people whom I care about!

    I really love reading all these posts on Swedish customs and traditions. So fascinating!

  2. Ana_ILTdP says:

    In Spain is like Italy cheek kissing for the girls and shaking hands for the boys (if good friends, maybe a hug).

    In The Netherlands is 3 cheeks kissing instead of 2!!!

  3. Yasmin A. says:

    Hi Antonia,
    I must say that I have been looking at your blog for awhile (I discovered it thorough Temptalia the makeup blog), but this is my first time I comment in your blog. I love your photos very much and I really enjoy seeing the photos of Sweden, it’s really a beautiful country.

    I’m from Jordan, a country in the middle east which most of its population are Muslims, so I will talk about our traditions in greeting according to our religion and culture which is affected mostly by religion.

    When two persons meet for the first time, and they are from the same sex, they will just shake hands unless one of them is young and the other is really old , the young one will kiss the old one on the cheeks as a sign of respect and appreciation. After the second meeting, regardless of the age, they will kiss each other on the cheeks (remember that they should be from the same sex). If these two people are in a professional relationship from the beginning they will most likely keep the shaking hands greeting for all the future meetings.

    If the two people are from different sex, the greeting may differ according to how much these two persons are religious, since in Islam its forbidden for males and females who are not close relatives to touch each others, they may do nothing rather than introduce themselves as you mentioned before or they may just shake hands, but if they do kiss each others it will be considered really inappropriate unless they are from a really free families and they know each others for a while.

    I hope I explained it clearly, in the end we have a really complex culture which is affected by many factors.

    Best wishes

  4. Chiara says:

    In the Netherlands we do kiss. Maybe not the first time, but after that always, both men and women.
    And like Ana said, we do it 3 times, whereas in other European countries they do it only 2 times. It always gives hillarious situations if we meet someone who doesn’t kiss 3 times.
    Personally i don’t like the kissing. Giving just a hand would be enough. I think kissing is too intimate.

  5. Julia-Isabelle says:

    Well, the three times kissing depends where you are from. You are absolutely right, we here in Italy do kiss people on the cheeks two times, but in northern Italy people even kiss three times (it is the same as in the west part of Austria- Vorarlberg- as some friends told me, for the rest of Austria, you just kiss two times). I personally prefer kisses just with people I know (relatives, friends). If I meet someone for the first time, we just shake hands. As for two male friends, they kiss (southern Italy) or shake hands (northern Italy). A few years ago, there was the “habit” of kissing people you just met at a party- which I always found really disgusting, as most of them were drunk, and as much as I “like” kissing my friends, I find it really strange to do it with absolut strangers.

  6. Anastasia says:

    In Austria it’s quite strange: in all kinds of formal situations you’ll shake hands. If you meet somebody at work or at the university you’ll just say Hello and will keep doing it for a while till you won’t get really good friends. But if you meet a person somewhere at the party or at somebody’s place it’s common to kiss twice. What I also find curious is that teenagers along with first-year students do prefer kissing and the ones, who are a little bit older shake hands or just hug. :)

  7. Chiara says:

    I didn’t know Northern Italians also kiss 3 times, i always thought the Dutch were the only ones. Even people i know from Belgium or Germany look weirdly when i forget and try to kiss them for the 3rd time :p

    • Seya says:

      That’s actually not entirely true! I’m from Belgium and we always give 3 kisses. I always thought people from the Netherlands only gave 2 :)

      • Chiara says:

        Oh, that’s funny, i didn’t know. I just knew a few people from Belgian who only kiss two time. But i was too soon with my conclusion :-p

  8. janerowena says:

    It’s easy to get caught out in the UK – we shake hands, but then often have a kiss on just one cheek after the initial meeting, and a hug as well after that if we become good friends – between all sexes. If someone feels awkward about all that, they pre-empt it by holding out their hand to shake very fast!

    However, we do have a multi-cultural society, so it is very easy to get caught out with one, two or three kisses, a brief handshake or a long, gripped in both hands handshake, or a large hug accompanied by a kiss or kisses. My family all hug and kiss each other, we all shake hands but I think it is dying out, apart from in business situations.

  9. Ilona Opengeim-Cherkas says:

    In canada, it is very common to shake hands when being introduced…kisses in the cheek…ah…maybe if it’s more of an informal gathering of teenager or people in their early twenties…in a professional setting, kissing isn’t appropriate at all…

  10. Wendy Blue says:

    I live in Montreal, Quebec (Canada), where French Canadians still retain their European heritage in their greetings with a light kiss bestowed on both cheeks of friend and stranger alike.

  11. Nina says:

    In Turkey, people just shake hands when they meet for the first time and say “nice to meet you” to each other (same for all sexes). If they meet for a second time and it’s for only professional reasons, they just shake hands and say “how are you/how is it going” and proceed. If they become friends after the first meeting and meet again in an non-professional environment, they can either hug or hug and kiss very lightly. People who know each other hug and kiss lightly on one or two cheeks, but if you feel awkward doing that, there’s always the option of only hugging lightly (with a little distance between two people). Close friends hug and kiss usually, but often it’s just a tight hug. Families do hug and kiss on cheeks, and sometimes younger ones kiss elders’ hands as a sign of respect and love. But it usually takes place on holidays. By the way, when kissing somebody on the cheeks, you can just brush your cheeks lightly against theirs while hugging or shaking hands, and it is considered as kissing. You don’t always have to really kiss. This version is preferred way more than the real kissing because people usually don’t like only “hello” but they don’t want it to be too warm either, so they do this. But actually there are no rules besides being polite and respectful, so one can easily get by just shaking hands and hugging lightly =)

  12. Karen says:

    I prefer a handshake on first meeting. It is polite and nice without being too in your face. Some people give one cheek-kiss on a first meeting but I don’t really like that. I prefer a firm handshake and usually I just extend my hand as I introduce myself. Gets me around quite a few awkward moments. Hehe.

  13. nikskie says:

    in indonesia, it’s shaking hands for both boys and girls for the first time. you’re only kissing cheek and hug if you already know the person and feel close to the person. but if you’re a boy, it’s handshake.

  14. Arantxa says:

    In Spain when you are introduced to someone for the first time in case of boy-girl or girl-girl give two kisses while the person who knows both of them indicates the name of each. In cases where two boys are greeted with a handshake, but that is not necessarily intended to greet a stranger, in Spain the men greeted a handshake all the time, are known from before or not. Even if two friends who don´t are seen in very long time probably embraced while clapping behind him, a gesture very “masculine.”

    So here we give two kisses from the start, except when it comes to a doctor, boss or something …

  15. Karen D says:

    In the US we shake hands when we meet. I notice a lot of women don’t, they just say nice to meet you and smile. A lot of women who do shake offer a limp hand. I find that annoying or kind of sad. I like a firm handshake the way men shake hands. Often when I shake hands with men the hand shake is extended in length and very firm. haha! It just works out that way, nothing planned. You’re both enjoying the human touch, I suppose. I don’t know anyone who kisses strangers or even friends. Family is a different story ofcourse. Hugging is a sign of genuine affection. Either you are very good friends or for some people who are “huggers” they hug as a way of saying that they want to be closer and show affection. I tend to follow the lead of “huggers”, if they hug me I’m happy to go along with it. Otherwise, I keep my space. Also we don’t like people standing too close. There should be a comfortable space between the two of you.

  16. Karen D says:

    I meant to mention that in the US we often shake hands when we end an encounter with an aquaintance, especially in a business situation when the encounter was a pleasant one. In general, girls hug each other more readily whereas guys don’t hug guy-friends as often, probably more often when they are intoxicated and/or really like each other. Guys are always up for hugs from girls! Kissing is considered a come on, not a greeting. I’d say most Americans are not touchy-feely, but it’s always interesting to meet those who are;)

  17. Melinda says:

    In Indonesia we shake hands. But the second time maybe not again. The guys might do it tho :)

    Here in Netherlands, I still shake hands even cuz I just assume that’s what people do. But when you already knew a person, you do a cheek to cheek three times. Yes, two is not enough here apparently ^^

  18. Ylenia says:

    In Mexico when it’s the first time you meet (or professional situation) it is like this:
    Man+Man: Handshake
    Woman+Woman: Handshake + 1 kiss on the cheek (sometimes no kiss)
    Man+Woman: Handshake or Handshake + 1 kiss on the cheek

    When you know each other up to being friends:
    Man + Man: Hand shake + half hug
    Woman + Woman: Kiss on the cheek + half hug
    Man + Woman: Kiss on the cheek + half hug

    When you are really close (or teenagers in most situations):
    Man + Man: Hand shake + full hug (In some close families 1 kiss on the cheek too)
    Woman + Woman: Kiss on the cheek + full hug
    Man + Woman: Kiss on the cheek + full hug

    Obviously there’s no rule… but this is certainly the most common… at least on my perspective
    ^^ sorry if I extended myself too much

  19. Pingback: Loose the handshake | Swedish love affair

  20. My husband is from Gibraltar and I was shocked to kiss everyone I met. It’s crazy how greetings differ from place to place!

  21. Bruna says:

    Well, I live in Brazil, and we are known for our kind way of greeting foreigners, or anyone else, in fact =D
    Here, when we first meet someone, it’s pretty much like everywhere else, men shake hands, because they don’t like that “touching” thing; women maaybe kiss each other on the cheeks, and a woman may kiss a man on the cheek. I think it also depends on how open the person can be.
    Not following? For example, I first met my father’s coworkers yesterday. Mostly men, and a couple of women. All of the women hugged me and kissed me on the cheek, while, on the hand, some men did the same as women, and some others just waved at me. I hug and kiss all of my male friends, and one of them [my favorite boyfriend's friend] always gives me a bear hug !
    My boyfriend, on the hand, is more like a shy guy with people he’s just met. He says “hi”, and if the person reaches for a handshake, he’ll do it. His closest friends always do that noisy “clap hands” and a strong hug.
    I really feel like if I were to compliment people the way you Euroupeans do, [except for the Italians - of who I descend, so we're very similar in that matter] I wouldn’t feel comfortable, since I believe that’s a very difficult way to make someone feel really greeted and cherished.
    I don’t know, just thinking ;D
    If you have any questions, please ask.

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