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Culture —– The Cold-Fish and Other Important Handshakes

by Brandi

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November 30th, 2009

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Vocabulario de la semana – Vocabulary of the Week

como mencioné – as I mentioned
se saludan – greet each other
es importante saber – it’s important to know
diferencia cultural – cultural difference
saludos – greetings
mujeres – women
mejilla – cheek
hombres – men
un abrazo – a hug
diferentes saludos – different greetings
cuando se saludan (a) – when they greet
¿qué pasa cuando – what happens when
pero la mujer – but the woman
brazos – arms
frecuentemente – frequently
ha sido creado – has been created
la respuesta correcta – the correct answer
es – is
tan común – so common
parecía – it seemed
casi diario – almost daily
más tarde – later on
unas pulgadas – a few inches
el codo – the elbow
dedos – fingers
por arriba y abajo – up and down
fuerte – strong
movimientos – movements
cargando – carrying
la primera vez – the first time
mano – hand
una sorpresa – a surprise
a diferencia de – unlike
no es así – it is not so
al principio – at first
país – country
un vecino – a neighbor
alguien – anyone
sabe – knows
manera – way
este tipo – this type
la persona – the person
está bien – is okay
parte de la cultura – part of the culture
ama de casa – housewife
el mundo – the world
nos encantaría – we would love
un amigo – a friend

Como mencioné in previous boletines, when Latin Americans se saludan, they nearly always shake hands, hug or kiss each other. Es importante saber about this diferencia cultural so you are not thrown off by your first few saludos when visiting Latin America.

Como mencioné, when mujeres who are friends or relatives se saludan, they almost always give each other a kiss on the mejilla. Men greeting mujeres, in a casual non-business setting, will likewise give each other a kiss on the mejilla. When hombres greet hombres in a similar circumstance, they will often give each other a handshake and/or un abrazo. The key to this is to be aware of the diferentes saludos and follow the lead of the Latin person you are greeting. Latin people that have lived in the United States for a while usually have adopted U.S. customs cuando se saludan a Americans.

Now the main question of the day is, ¿qué pasa cuando you are in a more formal setting, where you would usually shake hands, pero la mujer you are going to greet is carrying things in her brazos? What should you do? This happens frecuentemente and because of it, an interesting cultural standard ha sido creado.

First, see if perhaps you can guess la respuest correcta for this situation:

a. Avoid eye contact because it could be uncomfortable if she couldn’t shake your hand.

b. Offer to shake her hand regardless. Handshakes are so important that she will most likely put everything down to shake your hand.

c. Shake her forearm.

d. Just wave to her and give her a wink (but only in a politically correct way).

And…la respuesta correcta es – (I’ll keep you in suspense for a moment; please scroll down for the answer.)

La respuesta correcta es “d. Shake her forearm”. Forearm handshakes were tan común in Latin America that parecía like I shook a woman’s forearm casi diario. The first time it happened to me, the mujer put out her forearm to me and I had no idea what she was doing. It was a little awkward for both of us. Más tarde, I realized that you are actually suppost to shake her forearm when that happens.

And now to the art of forearm shaking: Gently grasp the forearm unas pulgadas down from el codo with a few dedos and your thumb. Very softly move your hand por arriba y abajo a few times. CAUTION: Do not give a “fuerte” forearm shake or make jerking movimientos por arriba y abajo as this could cause the person to drop everything they are cargando!

Changing the subject just a bit, la primera vez you shake a Latin woman’s mano, and she is not holding anything in her arms, be prepared for una sorpresa. A diferencia de Latin America, when I shake men’s and women’s hands in the U.S., they usually use a very strong grip. Some U.S. mujeres even have a stronger grip than some U.S. hombres. However, no es así in Latin America. Hombres usually use a strong grip, but mujeres generally leave their mano still and somewhat limp. When you shake their manos, they do not grip at all. It reminds me a bit of shaking a “cold fish”. La primera vez I shook one of their manos, I tried to get a better grip, then realized that she was making no attempt to grip my mano.

Al principio, I thought this diferencia cultural was maybe just a phenomenon in the país I was living in at the time. Then I went to live in another Latin American país and the exact same thing happened. Recently, I met un vecino here in the U.S. who is originally from Guatemala, just south of Mexico. When I shook her mano it was the same as every other “cold-fish” handshake I had experienced in Latin America. If alguien sabe the reason behind this cultural phenomenon, please be sure to let us know why they shake hands in this intriguing manera.

If you are not prepared for este tipo of handshake, it can be very shocking la primera vez you experience it. It can make you wonder if perhaps you have offended la persona whose mano you are shaking or if everything está bien. But if you realize it’s simply parte de la cultura, you will be prepared for it.

It is my understanding that Latin businesswomen do not do this handshake as much as the average ama de casa. If you, our boletín subscribers, have any further insights on this as well as how handshakes are done around el mundo, please visit our blog to share your thoughts! Click here! Nos encantaría to hear your feedback.

Moral of the Story: This is a diferencia cultural that can really surprise you if you’re not ready for it. Be prepared for it and you will do great. Be sure to practice the “forearm handshake” on un amigo.

Sneak peek at next week: “The Tacaño Hand Gesture”

¡Hasta luego! (“Until later”)
Click here to learn Spanish!
David S. Clark — President / Director
Visual Link Spanish™
Fun, Interactive Spanish Courses

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