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  • Sophie Williams

"Who should greet who FIRST?"

Updated: Mar 4

I was asked this question quite a number of times throughout my career in Image Consulting - regarding social greetings. It does get a little complex if we were to be intensely particular and "dissect" this through then lenses of different cultures, for example - it is (almost) expected for customers to greet sales attendants when we step into a store in Paris with a "Bonjour!" but it may still be considered a bit weird to greet strangers with a big smile or hug in Moscow. While we provide coaching for companies and individuals in International Etiquette, there are a couple of situations I would like to address in light of my recent experiences. I walked into an elevator and naturally said hello to the few passengers already in it. I received a warm "good morning" back from an older gentleman, a child and his mother stared at me with a reluctant "hi", and I got an awkward smile from a lady.


On the same day as I arrived solo at my hotel's hot tub ready to relax after a long day, I encountered a group of ladies who were comfortably chatting among themselves - so in a way I was the "intruder". Despite my fatigue, I walked over with a smile and greeted them with a "hello, good evening" before I entered the tub. To my shock, they (4 ladies) looked at me, one gave a half smile, one whispered a soft "hi", and the other 2 communicated hostility with their facial expressions and body language. I wasn't sure where the unfriendliness stemmed from, and I didn't allow myself to get into making any guesses or assumptions. I continued to do what I went there for, which was to relax and mentally plan for my next speaking engagement. Throughout my stay there I was still respectful and composed. Why? Because it brings me peace, it communicates my state of mind, and it was the right thing to do as etiquette and manners do help in navigating us through our daily interactions.


There are several points about verbal greetings I would like to make:

1) The party that joins in later/enters last should always be the first to extend a sincere and warm greeting to those already present, irregardless of their attitude.

2) Be thankful when someone holds the door or elevator for you, express it by saying "thank you".

3) If someone is in your way, ask politely for him or her to let you get through - be sincere and nice about it. Very often we hear an annoyed or reluctant "excuse me" - and it really doesn't help any one.

4) Always ask if others would mind if you were to change a setting on a publicly shared device - temperature on a thermostat, a different channel on a TV etc.

5) Always sincerely thank service providers - at ANY sector. It may seem redundant to us, but for those who have worked hard in providing us the services - it would mean a lot to be appreciated.


"Respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our manners"

Laurence Sterne




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