Arabic Language Blog

Non verbal communication – greetings Posted by on May 15, 2011 in Culture

Non verbal communication is a very important aspect of communication. We can send myriad messages without saying a word, through a gesture, a posture, a look, an impression or even through doing nothing at all. Like verbal communication, it evolvesو changes and gains new ways of expression, also it differs from place to place and from one generation to another. Moreover, there are universalities that are shared between all languages and others that are specific to one language and not to others.

I do not know how to tackle this difficult topic, but I will try to describe different ways in which Arab speakers may send messages to each other non-verbally, i.e. without words. There are many tools that we can use to send messages nonverbally, including our bodies, notably the face and the hands. Also, we can use body posture, actions, eye contact, etc; and we can use  pictures, objects, clothes, etc. to send all sorts of messages.


Greeting is a very important message that can be conveyed non-verbally. It is often done both verbally and non-verbally. The most common way of greeting is waving or shaking hands. I think that it is universal greeting to wave one’s hand, or to shake hands with someone and to say hello! It is often accompanied by a verbal expression like (سلام), (صباح الخير), and for young people (هاي).


In the army, the salute is a very important way of communicating and establishing status, order and respect. The army salute has been borrowed by people to greet each other non-verbally. It is performed in a more relaxed and less formal way, and it is simply a way of saying hello or good morning for example. If you are walking in a haste or in a car, and you see a friend at the café, you may exchange a salute to greet each other without saying anything, or it can be accompanied by a brief expression like (سلام), (صباح الخير). It should be noted however that mainly men salute in this way, especially from older generation, rather than young people. This is also used as a way of saying thank you! (شكراً).

Another important aspect of greeting in the Arab culture is kissing, and it is quite different from the way it is used in the West. When kissing is used as part of the greeting, it is often the case that women kiss each other and men kiss each other, unlike the West where you see the opposite. I think that it is more common for kissing to be used as part of a greeting in the Middle East than in the West, and it is a sign of friendliness.

However, kissing as part of a greeting can also convey esteem, as you can see in some Gulf traditions where people kiss the shoulder of the leaders or sheiks as a sign of respect.


There are other forms of greetings that I believe no longer are practiced, e.g. rubbing the tips of noses against each other. It used to be common in certain occasions like traditional weddings, but now it is no longer practiced, as it is perceived as unhygienic.


The song below is called (السلام عليكم), and it includes a lot of gestures and movements that go with the greeting.

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