Let’s start a cultural revolution, handshake-style…

…or the unique and awkward Maastricht “Hello”

by Erica Piasecka

In terms of international experience, Maastricht students are having a fairly privileged life. With 44% of us coming from outside the Netherlands, the University prides itself on its reputation as the most international in the country. I like to think of us as living in a little bubble; a kind of microcosm of Europeans with a few others thrown in. If a social scientist wanted to look at how different European nationalities interact with one another, Maastricht would be a great place to start.

There are a few things, however, that make me want to approach the bubble with a very sharp pin. The experience of greeting people is one of them. As far as I am aware, most countries have certain unspoken but inviolable rules about how to act when coming face to face with another human being. Often, they are helpful enough to encompass specifics about difference in rank, sex, level of familiarity… Enough information, anyway, to know exactly how to get the niceties over with without accidentally offending or coming on to someone.

For instance, as a native Brit growing up in France, I quickly learned that as a rule of thumb it was expected of me to give two kisses to everyone who was either also not-an-adult or who I’d met in relatively relaxed circumstances. Handshakes were reserved for doctors or parent-teacher evenings. I accepted a certain level of awkwardness on the part of my parents’ British friends when they first came to stay, but that was it. Generally speaking, I felt equipped to deal with the simple task of saying “hello”.

Well, I soon figured out that it was apparently not so. Here in Maastricht, there is no code. Throw a bunch of European nationalities together and what do you get? A lot of awkward greetings. Never in my life had I expected to shake another girl’s hand at a party. Now I have. Never did I think I would crush my housemate’s boyfriend’s hand in a weird half-hug-half-arm-clutch by incorrectly interpreting his body language and switching to a hug halfway through. Now I have. Never did I think I might just prefer to stand a safe two-meters’ distance away, raise a hand and loudly say “hi” as if I was approaching a slightly dangerous animal. I regret to say that now I sometimes do.

Surely though, the solution is in the problem. What we should do is come up with our own “Maastricht hello”, a way of greeting people which combines elements from all our cultures. You want to greet me with a kiss on one cheek and a high five? Fine, let’s do that. A one-armed hug and a double-handed handshake is more your thing? Again, something I can work with. As long as there is a consensus and we agree to do the same thing every time, it’s all good. So, if like me, you’re tired of inadvertedly assaulting your Belgian friends because they really do only want to do one kiss, leave us a comment with your thoughts. Let’s start a Cultural Revolution, handshake-style.


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