I remember one of my first culture shocks very vividly. I probably had others before, but this one was the start of a long series, and most importantly the first I actually recalled over time.

I arrived in the US for a 2-year stay at the age of 15.So here I am, on evening in Albuquerque, New Mexico, landing in a strange country, invited to stay for the night with a "native" family.

I'll pass with the first shock of seeing 4 cars in the driveway and go directly to the greeting part. The family was a family of 4 people, parents and 2 teenagers. One of them a girl around my age. At the time, I used to kiss-on-the-cheek anyone my age, as is the custom in France. The "bise" as we call it, is a very normal greeting custom. Upon arrival, I shake the parents' hands, gathering my best English (probably close to 0) to say hello, and I go to kiss the girl on the cheek. She looks at me horrified and pushes me back before I get to her cheek. It was probably the first time anyone showed their disgust so strongly towards me. Or at least what I interepreted as disgust then, I didn't know better.

I don't think I thought about it much, until the day after, when we said good-bye. I had made the mistake once, I was not going to do it twice, so I kind of stood there, expectant, waiting for something to happen. And that's where the whole family, parents and teenagers included, started to hug me. And that's where I pushed them away, not exactly understanding that they would not allow a kiss on the cheek the day before, and suddenly would take me in their arms as if we'd known each other for ever the day after.

Since then, I learned the power of a hug and have been using it profusely, even in France, where it played a few tricks on me, I must admit. Starting a few months later, when I came back for Christmas that same year andI went to hug my sister. Whe pushed me back with disgust and kissed me on the cheek...

Greetings are, I find, one of the most difficult cultural interactions. In theory, I guess they should be a very simple thing, one human greeting another. In practice, the variations are so wide that they can hinder future interaction by not following the proper standards and procedures. Something to be aware of, always, so as to work on the first impression.