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Cultural Slip-ups in West and East European Handshakes

Special Reports


• Expert Witness in Cultural, Religious & Ethnic Issues in Litigation.

• Expert Witness in GP Clinical Negligence.

• Author, Transcultural Medicine; dealing with patients from different cultures


Handshake is an act of holding and sometime shaking a person’s right hand with one’s own right hand. It symbolises establishment of friendship. In ancient days, it was a symbol of not taking arms against each other, as right arm was used to use them. It is estimated that there are about 85% people right handed in the world. However, I observed on television that David Cameron, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were signing papers with their left hands but they shook hands with their right hands. In first week of July 2017, I observed the BBC broadcast covering G20 conference in Hamburg, Germany.

Polish First Lady shook hand with American First Lady, first and then with Donald Trump. No eye to eye contacts

Poland was in the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republic) and now joined the European Union. The culture remains Eastern. The President of the USA, Donald Trump chose to visit Poland before going to Germany to attend the G20 conference to show solidarity. In a public meeting, on the stage, Donald Trump and Polish President Andrzej Duda stood in centre and their wives, first ladies, stood by their sides. Donald Trump shook hand with Polish President, without an eye contact and then offered his hand to Polish first lady Agata Komhauser-Duda. He looked stunned when the Polish first lady bypassed him and went across to shake hand with American first lady Melania Trump. She turned back and shook hand with Donald Trump without an eye contact.

The western media had a whale of time to broadcast and print it as “Polish first lady snubbed Donald Trump”. The polish President kept saying that it was fake news. In fact, there are two Transcultural points:

• In the East Europe and Eastern World, women shake hand, if they have to, with women first and then with men, if at all. Men meet men and women meet women for social chats. Sometimes, men have to make plans for war to bring peace.

• “Eye to eye contact” is very rude in East Europe and Eastern World. It means a confrontation or a sexy love affair. The mother would tell her child “do not look at your father in the eye, look at him and then look away”.

“Eye to eye contact” between men or women is essential in Germany and England. Historically, they are brought up to think that everyone in the world does or should behave as they do. Cultural concepts do not change easily. Mind the gap.

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump shook hands with curious eye contact

Donald Trump almost always offers his hand first, most likely because he is a long term experienced businessman. He shook hand with Vladimir Putin and both looked at each other with eye contact. Vladimir Putin looked apprehensive which was apparent by his eyes, face and body language. I assume that Putin would look Westerners in the eye but look away while talking with Easterners. He is a Westernised Easterner. Many leaders and people in the world are Westernised Easterners for financial and political reasons.

People are Westerners, Easterners and Westernised Easterners in the world. Culturally;

• “Eye to eye contact” is more common in the West. The Western profile is “vision, then hearing and touch, if necessary”. One speaks while the other listens.

• “Handshake or embracing” is more common in the East. The Eastern profile is “touch, then hearing and vision”. Both parties speak and listen at the same time.

Nevertheless, please remember many Westernised Easterners. There is always exception to every rule. We should be ready to learn, adjust and communicate for mutual benefits.

Theresa May offered her right hand first to Donald Trump; good eye contact

Theresa May played a trump card; she shook hand with Donald Trump while looking with a smile, into his eyes. He assured her that a “powerful” trade deal between the US and the UK would be completed “very, very quickly”. Moreover, Theresa May has also seized on the support of other world leaders over Brexit. This should put down a growing rebellion from some cabinet colleagues and backbenchers. Culturally, unity with leaders and people among Western Europe is more likely than ties with leaders from Eastern Europe.

No picture of any handshake between Angela Merkel and Donald Trump

I tried hard but could not find any picture of handshake between Angela Merkel and Donald Trump at G20 conference. I learnt from media that Donald Trump had no press picture of handshake with her when she recently visited Washington. He advised her firmly to pay more money towards the NATO defence fund. Tough luck again!

Angela Merkel was born in Hamburg, Germany. Donald Trump has German ancestry from his father’s side and Scottish from his mother side. Opposite poles attract each other and similar poles reject each other. I mean magnetic poles and it should not be confused with Poles in Poland.


Expert Witness in Cultural, Religious & Ethnic Issues in Litigation.

Expert Witness in GP Clinical Negligence.

As a specialist in Cultures, Religions and Ethnicities, since 1992, I have written reports, given advice, and evidence in tribunals or courts. In cases of medical negligence, discrimination in employments, personal injuries, accidents, murder inquiries by police, family or marital disputes, child abuse, sexual abuse, immigration, asylum and other litigation cases.

Languages spoken: English, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi.

Author of ‘TRANSCULTURAL MEDICINE’ - Dealing with Patients from differen t Cultures, Religions & Ethnicities.

Contact: Tel: 0208 570 4008 Fax: 0208 570 4008

Mob: 07710 402 276

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Web: www.drbashirqureshi.com

32 Legrace Avenue, Hounslow West, Middlesex TW4 7RS

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