Shaking hands Central Asian style

handshake

In addition to the required “Hello,” Central Asian men shake hands the first time they see each other in the day. When man enters a room, he goes around and shakes hands with each man present.

The strength of the Central Asian handshake differs from the traditional “firm” American handshake. Men may grasp your hand lightly rather than giving it a firm squeeze. This is to show respect to you. Firmer handshakes show familiarity or equality. Two-handed handshakes are also common with the left hand gently enfolding the right hand.

If you are caught off guard and your hands happen to be full when someone wants to shake, it is acceptable to offer your right wrist. They will then simply grasp your wrist rather than shaking it, or they may touch their wrist to yours. The same applies if your hands are wet. Shaking someone’s wrist feels awkward at first if you aren’t used to it, but the handshake greeting is important enough that people would rather shake wrists than not shake at all.

It is much less common for men and women to shake hands. I don’t shake hands with women in Kazakhstan unless they offer their hand first.  In particular, women who have been abroad or have extensive experience with foreigners may offer to shake your hand.

Instead of the ubiquitous handshake, Kazakhs may also acknowledge you by placing their right arm and fist across their heart and making a very slight bow of the head and shoulders. This is more common if you are standing some distance away and a handshake is less convenient.

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