I will now take a minute to go over the complex greeting system and formalities here, because when I first arrived it was quite an adjustment. Here in Oman, and I’d say in most arab cultures, there is less value placed on personal space. People want to reach out to you in many ways and that extends to the daily greeting.
It is funny, because back in the US, I am quite fidgety in large crowds, and accrording to my grandma my handshake isn’t quite the satisfactory powerhouse one should expect from a ferocious super-muscle woman like that of myself! 😉 The first time my host mom came to greet me, she grabbed me hand first and wrapped me in her arms before proceeding to kiss me from cheek to cheek. At first my immediate reaction was “too much affection”. I wasn’t used to all this pleasantry and even felt a little stupid and clueless; but eventually I began to catch on.
Between the same genders, people can be very touchy feely. On the street, even with such an emphasis on macho-ness and pride, it is culturally appropriate for two men to hold hands and to a local onlooker, this will appear totally platonic.
However, cross gender contact and communication should be kept to a minimum or not at all. Trust me, I have had the joy on multiple occasions to be that awkward fool who holds their hand out ready to shake, only to have the male recipient meekly walk away. Or arguably even more awkward is when I try to shake hands with a Muslim who is already washed for prayer. uhhm yea… that’s definitely a major no no. Also left hands here are of very little use, since it is considered the dirty hand; so definitely be mindful to shake with you right hand or run the risk of greatly offending someone’s sensibilities. But this is is all part of the fun of becoming more culturally sensitive.
Ok, now for the inntsructional segment of this … So no doubt whenever you see someone you’ve met before, if nothing else, remember to say assalamu aleykum.. There is a longer exchange of dialogue that follows this that I hope to go over sometime soon. However, the difference between in Oman and the US, is where in America a simple verbal greeting would be sufficient, here it is just not. Even at school, whenever my classmates enter a room, they will go from student to student to give them a brisk shake. With close friends there is more still. One would offer a quick hand shake followed by a kiss on each cheek, equivalent to the length of time you have gone without seeing them.