Handshakes, hugs and kisses may be off the table for a while but that doesn’t change the essence of a warm welcome. Every culture has a unique way of welcoming people and an understanding of greeting etiquette in different countries conveys an important message about how we view and value those from other cultures. Here, at The Bicester Village Shopping Collection, we place the highest premium on hospitality and our Village Guest Experiences and Services teams know a thing or two about making a good first impression. Below, their dos and don’ts of global greeting…
Subtle and nuanced, the French greeting is pure class, asserts Guillaume Seng, Guest Operations Manager at La Vallée Village. While it may be some time before the traditional cheek-to-cheek-to-cheek kiss is resurrected, the essence of a truly warm welcome remains, he maintains. “It should come from the heart and be delivered with sincerity, humility and respect.” That said, a bouquet of fresh flowers and a welcome drink go a long way, he adds.
DO maintain eye contact while offering a friendly “Bonjour Madame” or “Bonjour Monsieur” (“Good day Madam/Sir”). “Always greet the female in the party first and always greet each guest individually,” Guillaume advises. DON’T ‘crowd’ your guests. “Give them space,” Guillaume says. “In France, it is less about making someone feel at home than it is about making them feel special.”
“For some people warmth just seems to come naturally,” says Gianluca di Biase, Fidenza Village’s Guest Experience and Services Director, who counts his fellow Italians in this category. “The art of hospitality is about giving your guests an experience that involves all the senses and leaves an indelible memory – and the Italians so this in spades.” He adds, however, that, as big-hearted as they are, Italians will still look at you askance if you order a cappuccino after lunch. "Every time you do, an Italian chef dies,” he laughs.
DO forgo formality, advises Gianluca. “Instead, listen actively, be sincere and curious, and break down barriers with friendly, open dialogue.”
DON’T miss an opportunity to ask “Come stai?” (“How are you?”), “La famiglia a casa, tutto bene?” (“Is the family healthy and well?”). “You may find yourself recognising an accent and, before you know it, you’re talking about that little restaurant hidden around the corner of Piazza Santa Maria Novella in Florence.”
In Germany, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. “If you keep it simple, showing courtesy and respect, the German guest will trust you,” says Khadija Schimmel, Hospitality and Guest Experience Manager at Ingolstadt Village. While the formality of using titles like ‘Herr’ and ‘Frau’ have given way to more relaxed forms of greeting, do make a concerted effort to remember names and be sure to insert them into the conversation after every few sentences, she advises. “This small personal touch goes a long way, making others instantly feel more at home.”
DO be sensitive to regional specificities. If you’re in Bavaria, greet someone with a regional phrase like “Grüß Gott,” Khadija advises. “They’ll be pleasantly surprised.” DON’T be late! Germans are famously punctual and even a few minutes’ delay can offend.
A Spanish welcome is as laidback as a Barcelona beach day. Not usually ones for the handshake, greetings in Spain will more often consist of a warm “Bienvenido” and a kiss on each cheek, according to Alex González Pozo, Las Rozas Village’s Director of Hospitality and Guest Experience. While physical touch may not be appropriate yet, open and welcoming body language is a good substitute, he adds.
DO take your cue from the guest but, if in doubt, veer towards the formal, Alex advises. ”We’ll always use titles in the initial greeting and only revert to a more casual tone when the guest indicates it’s appropriate to do so.”
DON’T be too fussed about punctuality, unless you’re meeting for business (when being late is very bad form). As a generally easy going culture, Spanish people may sometimes take an agreed meeting time more as a general guideline than a strict expectation. Don’t be offended if you’re left waiting for a good 10 or 20 minutes.
A marker of British hospitality is courtesy at all times, this means maintaining a certain level of professionalism and social distance (no, not that kind!) from casual acquaintances. As they say: “Keep calm and carry on!” But don’t let the emphasis on etiquette mislead you. Brits are very hospitable and hosting events such as dinner parties is an important part of British social culture.
DO greet others with a firm handshake. While a kiss on the cheek may be appropriate in some social situations, a handshake is always safe! DON’T get too close for comfort. The British value witty observations above personal confidences in conversations with acquaintances. When speaking to someone new, avoid asking personal questions about religion, salaries or politics. Rather, stick to ‘safe’ topics such as current events, entertainment or the notoriously unpredictable English weather.
“In a multi-lingual society like Belgium, being able to communicate in all national languages is a sure way to give a warm welcome,” says Rupert Derham, Hospitality Manager for The Bicester Village Shopping Collection. The traditional triple kiss on the cheek may take a while to reinstate, but a warm smile and friendly “Hallo” (Flemish) or “Bonjour” (French) is a very suitable substitute, he advises.
DO acknowledge people fully on every meeting – and socialise for a short period of time before getting down to business as meetings.
DON’T hold back on the gifts. The Belgians are extremely generous and, whether they come to stay, or just for dinner, they are likely to bring chocolates (top quality), wine, flowers and a gift for the children. Birthdays are never missed and Christmas is a time of extravagant gift giving when no one is left out.
In a connection- and relationship-based culture like China’s, correct etiquette is an important way to show respect and build trust. However, you can’t go wrong with a friendly “huanying”, which literally translates to “I meet you with joy.” Understandably, exchanging gifts is an important part of Chinese hospitality, demonstrating respect for elders or a commitment to building close and lasting relationships with peers. But be aware of cultural nuances when choosing your offerings – sharp objects symbolise severed ties and clocks represent the running out of time.
DO address the oldest or most senior person first. While a handshake is the common practice, a slight bow of the shoulders shows an extra level of deference when addressing someone more senior. DON’T be alarmed if, when introduced to a Chinese group, they greet you with applause. Simply applaud back!
“Ireland is famous world-wide for its warm welcome,” says Aundrea McParland, Guest Experience Manager at Kildare Village. Irish hospitality revolves around the sharing of local knowledge, culture and stories. Whether over a pint of Guinness at the pub or queuing for the bus, visitors to the Emerald Isle are welcomed as if they’ve always belonged. With jovial hyperbole and storytelling playing such a central role in Irish culture, it’s fitting that the iconic Irish term for welcome – “Céad Míle Fáilte” – translates to ‘a hundred thousand welcomes’.
DO be ready to accept and offer a cup of tea. “We’re a nation of tea drinkers,” Aundrea explains. “A cup of tea solves every problem!” DON’T skimp on the rounds when drinking with a group. The Irish take their generosity as seriously as their drinking! It’s a pub culture custom to buy a round of drinks for the group you’re with, especially when rounds have been bought for you. And swap the “Cheers” for the Irish term “Sláinte!”