Nizar al Musalmy –
One of the many reasons why I enjoy living in Muscat is seeing, on a daily basis, how people greet each other. Come to Muscat and see how people convey their messages by use of touch and interpretation based on time and the distance between the parts touching and also remotely.
In this city, greetings are customary prior to a conversation. People great each other in passing, such as on a sidewalk or trail. While greeting customs are highly culture- and situation-specific, and may vary within a culture depending on social status and relationship, but here, interestingly enough, we have all mixtures.
People express greetings in all forms – audibly, physically, digitally, robotically and remotely.
Greetings here are so special and so committed and they consist of exchanges of formal expressions, kisses, handshakes, hugs, and various gestures. Even without having been associated with the army, some people here salute each other. Beyond the formal greeting, which may involve a verbal acknowledgement and sometimes a handshake, facial expression, gestures, body language and eye contact all signal the different types of greetings.
Gestures are the most obvious signal, for instance, you see a person greeting someone with open arms. And then later you see another greeting with crossed arms. When the youth greet, it is amazing; they touch their fists, shoulders and feet simultaneously. Facial expression, body language and eye contact reflect emotions and interest level. A smile is also used as a greeting in this city. A smile and an exuberant attitude is a sign of welcome.
Many different gestures are used as greetings. Just like in many other cities, the handshake is very common here, but here it has numerous subtle variations in the strength of grip, the vigour of the shake, the dominant position of one hand over the other, and never is the left hand used.
When the distance comes into play, people wave at each other. The waves are also different from one person to another depending on the height of the waver. We have the high wave the medium, the low and the microwave. Some people accompany a wave with a practice of placing the right palm on the heart, after every wave.
In Muscat, people shake hands, touch cheeks and even hug multiple times, but a man and woman greetings to each other has remained quite conservative and won’t go further than a verbal greeting i.e. a basic salaam, and to ask about life details to make sure the other person is doing fine.
But some men here have gone to higher strides when it comes to greeting each other; to the extent of doing one that is associated with the right fist placed in the palm of the left hand and both shaken back and forth two or three times.
Others try to copy that kind of having the head nod or bow. Here in Muscat we also see a style where people press their palms of the hands together and held near the heart with the head gently bowed.
But the most interesting style of greeting is hugging. Many Muscatians who did not hug in the past, have adopted the practice. Hugging is becoming a trendy expression of affection and support amongst the people here. It is now believed that hugging is now a unique solution to a universal problem, which is based on culture. People say that hugging enshrouds an inherent meaning of closeness.
If you observe carefully, you will realize that here in Muscat, people do it in different types. You may encounter or find a pair giving a conscious one and another giving a subconscious one. The distance between people hugging can even be interpreted in centimetres, making zones; in personal, social and public; from tight to lose. The duration is also decisive based on the interpersonal relationship.
You will see such hugs such as; where people hold out chests only. The side-ways hug; where chest sides are used. You will meet back-pat hugs, where there is back patting and hair rubbing during the embrace. You might also encounter the tight-squeeze hug of longtime friends, where hands grip tight, others lift their legs back in a right angle, yet others interlock them with those of their partners. There is also one called “back-off’”, where one party shows no interest in the hug.
Indeed Muscat can consider competing for the Guinness World Records as the city with most people greeting one another in different ways. Greetings to you and have a nice weekend!