Travellers wanting to experience the traditional greetings of tribes from around the world should brace themselves for cheek “sniffs” and bloody milk offerings.
To avoid any awkward moments Hotels.com has revealed the 10 most unique welcoming customs around the world, and tips on how to prepare for them.
Travellers visiting our Pacific neighbours are sure to come across the traditional Maori welcoming custom know as the hongi.
An ancient tradition, the hongi involves the rubbing or touching of noses when two people meet. It is a symbolic act referred to as the ‘ha’ or the ‘breath of life’, which is considered to come directly from the gods.
Tip: Keep your eyes open to avoid misjudging the distance or you could be in for a rather awkward moment, not to mention a very sore nose.
It might be bad manners anywhere else in the world, but in Tibet poking out one’s tongue is the customary way to welcome people. The tradition dates back to the 9th century during the time of a vicious Tibetan king known as Lang Darma, who had a black tongue.
The Tibetan people feared that King Darma would be reincarnated so they began greeting each other by sticking out their tongue to prove that they weren’t evil. The tradition continues today and is often accompanied by the person placing their palms down in front of their chest.
Tip: Refrain from greeting Tibetans in the traditional way if you’ve been chewing liquorice.
The traditional welcome at the Polynesian island of Tuvalu involves pressing one’s face to the other person’s cheek and then taking a deep sniff.
Tip: Follow the locals’ lead and avoid eating onions before arriving on the island.
When welcoming an unfamiliar guest into their home, a Mongol will present the guest with a hada – a strip of silk or cotton. If you are lucky enough to be presented with a hada, you should grasp it gently in both hands while bowing slightly.
The giving or receiving of hada, as well as the act of bowing to each other, is an outward sign of mutual respect, something that is very important in Mongolian culture.
Tip: Depending on what region of Mongolia you visit, the trading of pipes for smoking and the exchange of snuffboxes is also quite common.
The welcome in Japan is the bow, which can range from a small nod of the head to a long complete ninety degree bend at the waist. If the welcoming takes place on a tatami floor, a traditional type of Japanese flooring, people are required to get on their knees in order to bow.
The longer and deeper the bow, the more respect you are showing. Small head bows are common among younger people in Japan as a more casual and informal welcome.
Tip: Most Japanese don’t expect foreigners to know proper bowing rules so a slight nod of the head is acceptable.
Travellers lucky enough to witness the unique customs and traditions of the most well-known tribe in Kenya, the Maasai, will enjoy their vibrant welcoming dance. The Maasai dance is called adamu, the jumping dance, and is performed by the warriors of the tribe.
Traditionally the dance begins by telling a story and concludes with dancers forming a circle and competing to jump the highest, demonstrating to visitors the strength and bravery of the tribe.
Tip: Be prepared, often a blend of cow’s milk and blood can be offered to visitors as an addition to the welcoming dance.
In many parts of the Arctic, including Greenland, the traditional greeting by the Inuit people, or Eskimos, is known as a kunik.
The traditional kunik is mainly used among family members and loved ones and involves one person pressing their nose and upper lip against the other person’s skin and breathing. Westerns have adopted the tradition of the Eskimo kiss in which two people rub their noses together.
Tip: Make sure you don’t have a runny nose when doing the kunik in freezing temperatures or you might just find yourself getting stuck to the person you are greeting.
The traditional welcome in China is referred to as the kowtow, a custom which involves folding hands, bowing, and if you’re a female making a wanfu, which involves the folding and moving of hands down by the side of the body.
The kowtow can be traced back as early as the legendary Emperor Xuan Yuan.
Tip: Although the kowtow custom is not commonly practised these days, folding of the hands is still widely used and respected.
The Thai greeting referred to as the wai is a graceful tradition and requires one to take a slight bow of the body and head with palms pressed together in a prayer-like fashion and say ‘Sawaddee’.
Travellers visiting Thailand will notice that hand positions can change: the higher the hands in relationship to the face the more respect the giver of the wai is showing. This custom originally was used to indicate the absence of weapons, considered the ultimate show of respect and is still used extensively throughout Thailand today.
Tip: Performing the wai might feel strange at first, but you’ll soon start to embrace the tradition and come to enjoy greeting people in the traditional Thai way.
Travellers visiting the Philippines will have the opportunity to witness one of the more unique welcoming customs. When a younger person greets an older person they must bow a little, grab the elderly person’s right hand with their right hand, allowing their knuckles to touch the elder person’s forehead.
As this gesture is being made, the younger person will say ‘Mano Po’, Mano meaning hand, po meaning respect.
Tip: Be gentle when touching the older person’s head with your knuckles, you don’t want to give them a ‘knuckle head’.