Apr 16

Handshake Etiquette Around the World

With the end of the semester quickly approaching, many of you are preparing to go abroad to study, intern, or just travel. As you maneuver around in a new country, social situations might leave you feeling awkward at best, and completely lost at worst. What you’ll quickly find is that first impressions can make or break the relationship you have with someone, and outside of the US Americans haven’t exactly be known to excel in this area. Well, one of my hobbies is to study cultural differences between countries, and I came across several articles comparing the ideal handshake around the world. Most introductions will start with some version of a handshake, so knowing what is expected of you prior to the shake is a much better strategy than awkwardly figuring it out as you go. It sets the conversation off on the right foot, and helps you avoid any misunderstandings or unintentional rudeness. Because really, nobody want’s to be one of “those” Americans.

So without further ado, here are some findings on “handshake etiquette” around the world:


Brazilians give a firm handshake that lasts longer than most Americans are used to. As awkward as it may seem, you’ll need to maintain strong eye contact throughout this entire exchange. Women should be greeted with a kiss on each cheek. Repeat these processes with both the men and women when you leave.


This is probably one of the hardest shakes for Americans, who are taught how to shake basically in the opposite way: Firm handshake, eye contact, let go as soon as you’re done shaking. But in China, you grip lightly and bow slightly. Do not squeeze their hand, that’s considered rude. Avoid direct eye contact and (without thinking awkward thoughts) hold onto the person’s hand a second or two after the handshake has finished. You should also greet the oldest people first–it’s a matter of respect.


Most other Asiatic countries, including Japan, follow China’s lead. But the Philippines is an exception. This time look them right in the eye and don’t bow. A weak grip, however is still necessary here. Embrace your inner wet noodle.


If you’re a woman and you’re shaking a man’s hand, you should offer your hand first. Typically, women don’t shake hands with other women. Make the shake firm and fast, and never ever use both hands.


Shake their hand quickly and lightly, every time you meet (you could have known them for 10 years, but you should still shake their hand). If you’re close (and feeling extra European), a kiss on both cheeks is also customary.


Unless it’s a business situation, you shouldn’t shake the hand of the opposite sex. It is considered  impolite, because it’s traditional for a man to kiss a woman’s hand–rather than shake it–in greeting. If you are going to shake, however, bulk up squeeze tight. If it feels like you’re crushing their bones, you’re doing it right.


This is another country where firm shakes are considered rude. But don’t be surprised if the person holds the handshake so long that it becomes more like they’re actually holding your hand. Hand-holding is a gesture of friendship for both sexes. It’s not uncommon to see two grown men strolling around and platonically holding hands.


As in China, the most senior person (either in age or status) should start the handshake, and the grip should be soft. Do NOT bury your free hand in your pocket, but feel free to grasp their right arm with your left hand as you shake.


You should only be shaking hands with people of the same gender. But go gentle, and only shake a woman’s hand if she offers it.


Again, start by shaking the hand of the oldest, or most senior, person there, and let them guide the process. Greet them by their title and expect the handshake to linger. Let them decide when it’s time to let go.


When you’re greeting elders or high-status people, grab onto the right wrist with the left hand during the shake. Say “Jambo” (How are you?). Afterward, be sure to ask them about business or their family. This isn’t just a conversation starter–it’d be rude not to ask.


Expect a handshake that lasts a while. If you’re a man, a hug may also be coming your way. Women may kiss each other on the cheeks.


Be sure to shakes hands with everyone, no doesn’t matter who is there. Call each person by their first and last name, and never say, “How are you?” For Norwegians, it’s just meaningless conversational fluff.


Stop–don’t shake hands! The person will offer what’s called a “wai,” placing their palms together at chest level and bowing. Return the gesture, then say hello: If you’re a man, greet them with “Sawadee-krap.” If you’re a woman, say “Sawadee-kah.” Only shake hands if a wai is not offered.

I hope this was helpful or at least interesting. Please let me know how you travels turn out!

Elkins, Kathleen and Gould, Skye. “Here’s How to Properly Shake Hands in 14 Different Countries.” Business Insider. Business Insider Inc., 5 May 2015. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

“What is the Proper Handshake Etiquette Around the World?” Mental_Floss. Felix Dennis, 5 Dec. 2013. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

Apr 16

French Social Movements in the Form of Women’s Bodies

Over the weekend I traveled to New York City in order to do some research on a art history/women’s studies project. I wanted to look at the way different artists used the female form as an illustration of different movements, basically using images of these women to promote controversial political or academic ends. When I was in the Metropolitan Museum of art on Saturday, I came across two paintings which did this so well they were actually censored (i.e. kicked out) of the Salon in Paris, although the two movements they represent couldn’t be more different.

Vigee Le Brun, “Marie Antoinette in a Chemise Dress,” 1783, Oil on Canvas

This first painting was done in 1783 by Vigee Le Brun, the most sought-after female portraitist in France of her time. Madame Le Brun was often commissioned to paint the women of the French royal family, and one of her goals was to portray them in such a way that appeared humble and relatable. I know this certainly seems odd in France, which had been obsessed over class for hundreds of years, but remember this is just a couple years before the French Revolution, and the royals were willing to go to great lengths to prove they were not as evil as the people seemed to believe they were. The portrait I studied was of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, but she’s certainly not portrayed in the way we usually think of her. Rather than sporting a gigantic dress decked out with jewels and hair piled nearly a foot off the top of her head, she is shown here in a chemise dress, with a straw hat (straw–the stuff of peasants!). Her hair is mostly down, and in the background the flowers next to her seem to be falling apart, which wouldn’t have been allowed to happen in a royal court. Perhaps the most shocking thing about this portrait is that Marie Antoinette is not wearing a corset. Instead is shown in a soft flowing dress her ladies would wear on a casual day when they had nowhere to be. This was unheard of in a painting of a monarch, especially in 18th century France.

Vigee Le Brun’s goal was to make her Queen look approachable, relatable, and humble, and I believe she met this goal. Many people in France enjoyed this portrayal of her. However, she may have done too good of a job, considering the Salon would eventually remove her painting because of its “inappropriate” depiction of a French royal. About a month later Le Brun would repaint this work, replacing the chemise dress with an elegant lace-trimmed one that is the epitome of decorum, although Marie’s signature Cabbage Rose would remain. This version of the painting was later accepted into the Salon, but is in my opinion much less interesting than the one preceding it.

Gustave Courbet, “Woman with a Parrot,” 1866, Oil on Canvas

The next painting was done about a hundred years later by Gustave Courbet, who many claim is the founder of the Realism movement. Courbet hated the academic style of painting that was taught by the French Royal Academy of Art. He thought it was too idealistic, frivolous and removed from society. As a result he created several images of people of the lower class, without ever censoring the menial and seemingly pointless drudgery of their existence. Courbet seemed to grow bolder with age, as his art became increasingly risque. The piece I analyzed is of a nude woman, although she’s certainly not the type of women French up-and-ups were used to seeing. Instead of the ethereal, near-perfect women of decades prior, this woman is startlingly real, and definitely from the lower class (i.e. a prostitute). More to the point: there’s a certain dirtiness to this painting which makes it both compelling and scandalous. While her hair appears soft and rich, it is scruffy at the base, implying it hasn’t been washed in a while. Her eyebrows don’t appear to have ever been groomed at all. Her hands are darkened and uncleaned–just compare them to the hands in the portrait of Marie Antoinette. Certain areas of her body have been darkened as well, implying the presence of hair, which would have definitely been rude to paint at the time. The woman’s mouth is open and you can see her teeth–a rather impolite expression. In addition her legs are partly spread and she’s lying on a bed, which clearly sexualizes her. Nothing is implied here: Courbet basically gives all his viewers what he knows they want to see, rather than beating around the bush trying to create some perfect, innocent woman who for some reason is naked in a painting.

What I think is one of the most impactful things about this painting is its sheer size. At the Met it took up an entire wall. People wouldn’t have painted anything that big of a single person unless they were royalty or some other major government big shot. But Courbet did it with a freaking prostitute! Honestly I find it so hilarious.

This painting was of course removed from the Salon, like most of Courbet’s work. But it certainly caught people’s attention and inspired the young, emerging generation to move away from the academic style it so protested and toward new movements like Realism and later Impressionism.

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