Business greetings: Shake hands, kiss cheek(s) or make smacky noise in the air?

One effect of globalization: learning whether to shake hands, kiss, or kiss-kiss-kiss when greeting a business associate from outside the U.S. “With so many national customs involved, ordinary office greetings require savoir-faire,” says Wall Street Journal writer Christina Binkley ( 27 March 2008 ) .

There was a time when business acquaintances did not kiss lightly on our side of the Atlantic. Close friends and family, maybe — but one didn’t peck her investment banker on the cheek or buss his Congresswoman. Social greetings are evolving, though, and are becoming more complicated with globalization.

Whatever happened to shaking hands? There is something so American about the firm control of a handshake — it’s about disarming one’s opponent and keeping him two feet at bay. Control is in our DNA. This is why travel guides must spell the social kiss out for us: In France, generally two cheeks, or four, no lips; in parts of Belgium, three cheeks, and so on.

Still, raise the subject and a blush-worthy anecdote is sure to follow. “Much of the confusion comes because each participant assumes he or she is choosing the type of social kiss to be performed, and the two choices don’t match,” writes Judith Martin, a.k.a. Miss Manners, in her “Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior — Freshly Updated.”

Miss Manners says to kiss the right cheek first. “The first presenter gets to choose whether they will actually kiss each other’s cheeks, make a smack-smack noise in the air, or simply bump cheeks,” she writes. “The partner’s job is still to be alert in order to follow suit….” More rules are here (in a sidebar).

And, in case you were wondering, the rule is “no frontal hugs” in business settings. Major faux pas.

Anticipating wild cards in world affairs

An article in the latest The Futurist magazine (January-February 2008) summarizes an essay by Peter Schwartz & Doug Randall about wild cards in world affairs. (For futurists, a wild card is something that was thought to be a low-probability, but high-impact, event. Example: the collapse of the Soviet Union.) Some of the “strategic surprises” they see on the horizon that world leaders need to contemplate:

“The warning signs are there if one’s eyes are open to them,” Schwartz & Randall write. “The world’s business and government leaders will be immeasurably better off if they carefully consider how these scenarios could come to pass and act today to create maneuvering room for the radically different world that these game-changing events could create.”

The Futurist summarized “Ahead of the Curve: Anticipating Strategic Surprise,” by Peter Schwartz & Doug Randall, an essay in Blindside: How to Anticipate Forcing Events and Wild Cards in Global Politics, edited by Francis Fukuyama (Brookings Institution, 2007).

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