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Formal english greeting etiquette

Updated April 17, 2017

First impressions are important in British culture. Whether you're meeting a person in business or in a formal social setting, it's important to be well versed in British customs and etiquette. Common mistakes can make you appear unpolished or rude. Avoid these pitfalls by reviewing British traditions before heading to a cocktail party or business dinner.

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It's customary to greet someone in Britain with a firm handshake, particularly if you're meeting him for the first time. Men should grasp women's hands more lightly than they would another man's. In social situations, introduce the man to the woman first. When meeting someone new, pay attention to your posture. Good posture will make you appear more confident.

Verbal Greetings

While shaking hands, people in Britain will ask, "How do you do?" While this phrase is technically a question, it does not require an answer. The correct response is not, "I'm fine, thank you." Instead, it's common and polite to simple say "How do you do?" back to the person. However, if the greeter asks, "How are you?" it is then polite to say something to the effect of, "Fine, thank you, and you?" Additional British greeting phrases include, "nice/delighted/pleased/glad to meet you" or simply "good morning/afternoon/evening."

Learning Names

You may find that instead of a greeting, the person you're meeting simply will give you their name. Do not take this as rude, as it's a common British way or introducing oneself. If you hope to be on a first-name basis with the person you're meeting, stress your first name by repeating it. For example, say, I'm Jane. Jane Doe." Also, remember that you may have to introduce yourself again through the course of a night, particularly if there are a lot of introductions going on.

Business Greetings

Introductions depend on the person's rank in the company. The person with the highest ranking meets others in order of their positions. If you are introducing two people of equal rank, introduce the person who you know less to the other. Business people in Britain always shake hands as a greeting.


Kissing on the cheek is a greeting for friends or people you haven't seen in a long time. Avoid all other physical contact or keep to a minimum. Hugs or other kinds of embracing or touching of the shoulders or elbow are not appropriate. "Hi," "hello," or "morning/afternoon/evening" without the "good" are informal greetings that you should not sue unless you're familiar with the person.

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About the Author

Lindsay Pietroluongo

As a full-time writer in New York's Hudson Valley, Lindsay Pietroluongo's nightlife column and photos have appeared regularly in the "Poughkeepsie Journal" since 2007. Additional publications include "Chronogram," the "New Paltz Sojourn," "About Town" newspaper and "Outsider" magazine. Pietroluongo graduated from Marist College with a B.A. in English.

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