Shaking Hands, Bowing, Curtsying, Saluting, The Clinking of Glasses and Other Greetings.

Title Image: Clipart Library

Etiquette is a changing part of our social norms. Despite their strange practice in some instances, most do have a very pragmatic historical origin.

Image: Albion Swords

Shaking Hands

As most people are right handed, one’s sword, which was carried at all times when travelling in mediaeval times, would be worn across the left hip for ease of access. Upon greeting another person, it became customary to extend one’s right hand in demonstration that it was bearing no weapon. Thus the handshake developed as a sign of greeting and peace.

The handshake has developed in many parts of the world and it is wise before visiting another country to check the social protocols.

In Japan and China, for example, a weaker handshake is preferred. (Yuck!)

In India and many Asian countries, the respectful Namaste gesture, sometimes combined with a slight bow, is traditionally used in place of handshakes. However, handshakes are preferred in business and other formal settings.

Image: Universal Peace Foundation

Handshakes are also used in other situations. Romany Gypsies, for example, will conduct a negotiation through an on-going handshake during which messages are signalled through various movements of the hand and wrist.


Bowing in Western countries tends to be reserved as an act of deference and respect for members of Royal Families and their representatives, certain Judicial and Government figures and religious purposes. It is also practised in Martial Arts and other forms of combat.

Image: Wikipedia

In the East, bowing takes on a whole new level of significance. Every country and every culture seems to have its own protocols around bowing from the simple lowering of the head through to laying prostrate on the floor with arms spread wide in a show of complete surrender and subservience.

Again, it is wise to learn up on the social etiquette of a country which includes such pleasantries as part of their cultural behaviours.

Image: Wordnik


The curtsy (derived from the word “courtesy”) is the female version of a bow.
According to Desmond Morris, the famous anthropologist, the motions involved in the curtsy and the bow were similar until the 17th century, and the gender differentiation between the actions developed afterwards. This is more than likely due to the fashion of longer dresses.
Strictly speaking, a curtsy involves the plié movement borrowed from second-position in classical ballet in which the knees are bent while the back is held straight. Both feet and knees point out so the torso lowers straight down, as the head is bowed. It is staggering how few people can do a decent curtsy!

Eastern countries tend not to use curtseying, preferring the Namaste style of action as their sign of deference. There are some variations so please check before travelling!

In the Middle East it can become extremely complex for ladies to know what is expected as it changes not just from country to country but between ethnicities also. There have been some famous incidents! Women receive a very low level of respect from many peoples of the Islamic world.

The different salutes, Prince Harry in the Army and Prince William in the Navy. Images: Daily Mail


It was customary, for an armoured soldier, for his helmet to be removed for the sake of identification upon being greeted.
This military tradition continued into the times of Busbys or Bearskins as worn by Guardsmen. As this headgear is extremely heavy and large and includes a chinstrap, the tradition morphed into a touching of the headgear in a show of deference to a senior officer. This gesture was then formalised into what we know today as the salute.

The Army of the UK salutes with the back of the hand flat against the forehead and index finger just above the eyebrow. The Navy salutes with the palm pointing downwards. This is because Queen Victoria did not like to see the grease smeared hands of her sailors as they saluted her!

Anglo Saxon Drinking Horn Image:

Clinking of Glasses as a Toast

In days of yore, there was much mistrust between the various Peers of the various realms around the world. The attempts to undermine a family were commonplace.

The poisoning of a rival’s drink was a practice which became almost a fashion. To disprove such a ruse, the two principals in such a situation would clash drinking vessels, whether a pewter goblet or a bull’s horn, causing the drink from each vessel to spill over into the other. The host would then drink first and demonstrate the safety of the guest.

This practice continues today as a symbol of wishing good health to others.

Good Health to you and Namaste!

All Rights Reserved. ©Edward Bryans 2017. No unauthorised reproduction of this post in whole or in part is permitted without the express written consent of the author