Shaking hands

I chaired a Bachelor defense this afternoon for a student from Saudi Arabia that has been in a number of my classes. As he was called back in for me to officially grant him the degree, I put out my hand to give him a congratulatory handshake that for me is always part of the ceremony.

He pulled his hands back, put them over his heart and smiled, saying "Oh no, I can't because of my religion."

I was irritated, but kept on with the formalities and left with the other woman on the committee, his advisor. We spoke about the incident afterwards. Here we have been teaching him all these years in Germany, where hand-shaking is a daily ritual (and you need to make sure that you don't forget and shake the same person's hand twice in one day or you will get told "Wir haben uns schon", we already shook hands). But he is unwilling to touch us because we are unclean women? Or because we are the "property" of our fathers or husbands and he does not have our permission?

If he had said: Oh no, I have a cold! We would have gladly not given our hands. And my colleague notes that she really hates the huggy-kissy stuff that is popular in Berlin as a greeting. But to refuse to shake our hands because we are women is mighty strange indeed. I suppose I should just let it go, but it somehow has nagged on me all evening.


Anonymous said...


Meeting and Greeting

When meeting and greeting in Saudi Arabia, it is usual for close male counterparts to shake hands and kiss on each cheek. However, if meeting under more formal circumstances, a handshake between members of the same sex is fine. Always use your right hand when engaging in a handshake, as the left hand is considered unclean. Each person present will be greeted individually, and it is expected that you do the same. You should expect to undertake a considerable amount of small talk, and learning a few Arabic greetings would be well received. Saudis will stand closer to each other than many westerners are used to, and members of the same sex will often touch arms when postulating or emphasising a point. You should not draw away from this as it would be considered rude and rejecting. Be aware that due to the conservative nature of Saudi Arabian society, it is not considered proper etiquette for men and women to greet each other in public.


WiseWoman said...

When I am leading an oral exam, I am a representative of the state. I am not a woman or a mother or anything else but the person set by the state to lead the proceedings and to confer the degree.

But beyond that, I think it is time for the Muslim community to understand that women are human beings who should be afforded the same respect as men in public communication.