Since there’s an outbreak of a new Coronavirus or COVID-19, I think I need to discuss it here as well. Nowadays, there are plenty of instructions on how to wash your hands properly, such as washing your hand while singing “Happy Birthday Song” twice. Whereas previously we wouldn’t remember to wash our hands before we eat, rinsing them with water would be enough. The Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture had even advised us to use Indian Namaste greeting, to prevent the spread of the virus through hand-shake. Well, you don’t have to go a long way to India, in the Sundanese Empire era since the days of Prince Kornel’s fighting against the Netherlands, there is already a Sundanese greeting, an anti-virus greeting.
The Virus Spreads
Since the Coronavirus or COVID-19 has been declared as a pandemic, the world is in panic. People are scrambling for medical masks and hand sanitizers, while being made aware of the viral spread mechanism.
It is not spread as an airborne virus, but through droplets (from saliva, phlegm, etc.) while someone is coughing or sneezing. It is then sticking on objects around us. When we hold such objects, including when we are shaking hands with others, this is when the virus spreads.
Ways of Greetings Around the World
There are many other ways to greet people other than handshakes. It is similar from one country to another, but with differing names.
Place your Palm Together and Reach Out
I have lived in Bandung for many years, so I usually greet by placing my palms in front of my chest, and reach out with both palms to the other person. You could either touch the other person’s tip of the finger or not. Male and female usually does not touch each other’s hands.
Placing Both Palm in Front of the Chest
Usually common in Thailand (Wai), or India (Namaste), placing your palms together has many different names in different countries. In addition it is also followed by a nod or bowing your head slightly.
Usually common in Japan and Korea, this type of greeting has its own bowing angles, with the arms positioned neatly on the sides of the body. However, it doesn’t reach to 90 degrees angle.
The Netherlands has brought hand-shaking as a form of greeting from the colonial era. It has since become a symbol of an agreement or a promise. Reflecting on the story of Prince Cornel above, there was a time when he refused to shake hands with a Netherland’s Dutch Indies officer.
The story goes, Prince Cornel, a nobleman from Sumedang was suspicious of the Netherlands. When a Netherlands’ officer, a General, offered his right hand to shake, Prince Cornel replied by offering his left hand, while his right held his Kujang (Sundanese traditional Weapon) firmly, ready to be drawn, being wary of the Netherlanders’ actions. This scene has been commemorated as a statue, located around Cadas Pangeran, a scenic route from Bandung to Cirebon.
You greet each other by touching noses. In New Zealand, Maoris call it Hongi while Alaskan Inuits call it Kuni.
Sticking your Tongue Out
This unique greeting has been done by the Tibetans. For us, maybe it is insulting, but not for the Tibetans.
Originally comes from one of the tribes in the African continent, This greeting has become popular among the youth in the United States and other countries.
Other than a shaking hands, fist bump is also a well known form of greeting.
Recently this style is commonly used to avoid touching other people’s palms.
It is usually done among family members or to a respected person. Such as, from wife to husband, children to an older person, at school, from the pupils to the teachers, and even in college, the students will hand-kiss the professor before leaving the room to show their respect.
Obviously very different from the romantic undertones the Western culture has between a man and a woman.
Apparently, this only applies in Bandung and West Java. I’m not familiar with the situations in other cities in Indonesia.
Cheek-kissing is considered appropriate among family members or between two women. And since modern time, this greeting has also been done between male and female, but less common between two males.
It’s also common in the Arab culture, usually done three times. So it’s right cheek-left cheek-right cheek, exactly three times.
Replacing Shaking Hands Greetings
Shaking hands has become a social norm, where children are being taught to shake hands at an early age, which can continue to a hand-kissing or not.
Refusal of this greeting is considered impolite and disrespectful to the ones offering first. My editor friend felt offended and even posted on Facebook that one time when she offered her hand, her friend quickly cusp her hands and didn’t want to shake hands.
When I explained that it is common norm in Bandung, especially with the opposite sex, only then she understood. But well, she already posted the status.
Nowadays, with the pandemic looms, it seems that people are more accepting if you don’t want to shake hands. Since it had been known that the virus can be transmitted through physical contacts, greeting styles all over the world has changed.
Waving hands and smiling is considered enough as a subsitute. There’s also a suggestion to use Mr. Spock’s Vulcan greeting from Star Trek.
We can also put our right hand on our left chest to show respect and replace the hand shake. However, this kind of greeting has already been done by train station workers in recent years. The porters, janitors, and train conductors do this greeting while the train departs.
The Ministry of Education and Culture had also given their suggestion in greeting style. My teacher friend said that schools had already applied Namaste for everyone, before social distancing was even applied. Namaste then replaced hand-kissing between pupils and teachers.
In my opinion, we should use the Sundanese style greeting too, so that when you’re going to shake hands, there won’t be someone who says:
“Have you used hand sanitizer?”
Well, do you have any anti virus greetings in your place? [wid]