The Raison d’être for this blog, at least when I started off, was to dwell upon cultural divides and cultural differences that I have encountered between different societies that have made me who I am today – Saudi, Indian, British and American. One of the most distinguishing features in cultures is the way men and women interact with each other.
Among the things that fascinate me on this subject is the way men and women greet each other when they cross paths. Most Arabs (except perhaps the socially liberated ones’ like many Lebanese) show a lot of warmth when they meet – if two people greeting each other are of the same gender, they hug and kiss each others’ cheeks. If it is the opposite gender, they would barely notice each other and continue their way. In case of social gatherings, care is taken to make sure that there is no free mixing of people from the opposite genders, ruling out the possibility of awkward meeting of glances.
Indians shake hands when they meet – and hug each other on special occasions or when they are meeting after a long time – as long as they are from the same gender. Indians in India seem to be in a transient stage as they embrace Western culture that is more free as far as interacting with the opposite gender is concerned, while still influenced by their heyday which involved greeting the opposite gender with folded hands without ever touching them. As they deal with a heavy dose of Western influence via the Internet, movies and Television, they seek to interact more with the opposite gender and notice them more, but society as a whole still judges such actions negatively, which bogs them down. The resulting effect has been many of them indulging in a lot of interaction when there is no physical proximity – via text messages, social networking sites and chat clients, but when they come face to face, they are left shifting weight from foot to foot while staring at their own feet, if they do gather the courage of getting face to face at all.
Two Arab men kissing each others’ cheeks would be considered weird by most White
Caucasians and African Americans – because they are usually seen doing the opposite – when two men greet each other, the most they would go up to is a handshake, but when a female is involved, a warm hug is quite common in non-professional gatherings. In fact, for example, when a male-female couple passes by another male, the female from the couple would hug the other male and shake his hands, and the guys would just shake each others’ hands but not hug each other. Such a difference in greeting gestures is not considered weird – two men expressing affection is. Indian males who are friends often grab each others’ hands and walk with arms around each others’ shoulders, and these actions would normally be considered weird and reserved only for people from the opposite genders by these cultures. The perception of homosexuality is indeed much stronger here. I pointed this out to a friend recently who concurred after recalling US President Obama hugging Mrs. Cameron, the British Prime Minister’s wife, while Obama and Mr. Cameron only had a handshake during Obama’s recent visit to the UK. As far as Muslims in the United States are concerned, interactions between the opposite genders is worthy of an article in itself . Watch out for the next post!