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Greeting Gesture Confusion

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"Heil five!" "Huh?!"

Alice is meeting Bob for the first time. They say hello to one another, then move closer to greet one another. Alice holds out her hand for a handshake, but Bob spreads his arms to give her a hug. Hilarity Ensues, along with awkwardness for all concerned.

The hug-handshake confusion is the most overt form of this gag, but it can be done with other confusions of the appropriate gesture to use (one character goes for a handshake and the other for a fist-bump or other Handshake Substitute; Bob kisses Alice on the cheek, to Alice's surprise; a French character goes to kiss an American character on each cheek; an American character goes for a handshake while an East Asian character bows; and so on and so forth). A variation is when both parties instead try to use the other culture's greeting out of courtesy, meaning well but still ending up with similar awkwardness. It's even possible to do this in sci-fi or fantasy works via the Cross-Cultural Handshake.

A stock gag in Cringe Comedy. Often found in White Dude, Black Dude routines, when the "white dude" goes for a handshake and the "black dude" goes for a Handshake Substitute. Compare Handshake Refusal, where one character outright refuses to shake the other's hand, deliberately creating an awkward situation; or The Unhug, which is awkward for both parties. Definitely Truth in Television: just about everyone has experienced this at least once. It's particularly likely to happen when people of radically different cultures meet.


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  • One of the adverts in HSBC's 'The world's local bank' campaign has a British man and a Japanese man attempting to greet one another; the Japanese man extends his hand for a handshake, while the Brit attempts a Japanese bow. This leads to some confusion, until they both settle on the handshake.

    Anime & Manga 
  • The Familiar of Zero: Queen Henrietta offered her hand for Saito to kiss, but he gets confused and has no idea what she is doing. Annoyed, Louise tells him to kiss her, but instead of kissing her hand, he grabs her and kisses her on the lips. Though Henrietta enjoys it, Saito has no idea why everybody else is mad at him.
  • Fate/Apocrypha: Kairi Sisigou offers Mordred a handshake, but she cheerfully hi-fives his hand instead, causing Kairi to look slightly annoyed.
  • Gate: When Princess Piña meets the (female) Japanese delegate, the meeting ends with the delegate reaching her hand out... which, in the princess' culture, is apparently only done for wedding ceremonies. Fortunately, one of the aides tells her what to do.

    Comic Strips 
  • A Zits strip had this when Walt and Jeremy complete a project and attempt to celebrate. One goes for a high five while the other goes for a fist bump. Subsequent attempts to correct this with other gestures just result in more confusion.
  • In Dilbert when Dilbert is introduced to new coworker Amber Dexterous and assumes she's "going for the hug" when she holds out both arms. In fact she shakes with both hands.

    Fan Works 
  • The Bolt Chronicles: When first meeting, Mindy Parker and Penny twice offer each other a simultaneous hug and handshake before finally settling on a mutual hug, in "The Cameo".
  • Plan 7 of 9 from Outer Space: Captain Proton messes up a First Contact by offering to shake hands with the elder statesman of an ancient alien civilisation. As men Holding Hands is a sign of homosexuality, the statesman decides that Proton must be gay.
  • Examination: Hoshi Sato offers her hand in greeting to Rajiin because she knows that Captain Archer always shakes hands, so she'd already be familiar with the gesture. Hoshi does however keep the palm angled to make it clear her hand is empty and therefore non-threatening.
  • The Portal: Blizzard, who is actually a human turned into a dragon, holds his right front paw out to Storm the Wind dragoness to offer her a handshake, but when he sees her looking at his paw with a confused look, he lowers it thinking she's unfamiliar with the concept of handshakes.
  • Fate: Tainted Sword: When Salem convinces Shirou Emiya to join her, she holds out her hand for him to kiss, but he obliviously gives her a handshake instead. She gets annoyed and indicates this is not the first time this happened, lamenting to herself that she is old and no one in the modern world has heard of kissing hands.

    Films — Animation 
  • In The Boss Baby, Tim and the Boss Baby go through this a couple of times. Tim likes a handshake, the Boss Baby prefers a fist bump.
  • In FernGully: The Last Rainforest, Zak offers a handshake to Crysta. Unfamiliar with the concept of shaking hands, she just sticks her hand out at Zak's face.
  • Lightyear: Whenever Buzz is about to leave on a mission, he and his friend Alisha Hawthorne do a finger-bump while saying "To infinity, and beyond". When Buzz tries to do the same thing with her granddaughter Izzy, who is unfamiliar with the gesture, she asks if he's trying to get her to pull his finger.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Get Out (2017), this is Played for Drama when Chris goes to fist bump Andre, and he responds with a handshake. This confirms to Chris that something isn't quite right with Andre.
  • In Meet the Parents, Greg first meeting Dina, his fiancée's mother, goes exactly like this.
  • In Tommy Boy, when the titular character (played by Chris Farley) meets someone he believes to be his future stepbrother (played by Rob Lowe), Lowe holds out his hand to shake.
    Tommy: Brothers don't shake hands! Brothers gotta HUG!
  • At the end of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Hermione hugs Harry right away but has an awkward hesitation with Ron that turns into a handshake.
  • Pacific Rim: Newt Geizsler and Hermann Gottlieb have a moment like this when Newt offers a Secret Handshake in friendship after Gottlieb offers to drift with him. Gottlieb is so uncool he has no idea how to do it.
  • Twice in The Great Dictator, the European dictator Hynkel tries to shake hands with Napaloni but his "Heil Hynkel" salute come in between and their hands miss each other several times until they finally figure it out.
  • Played for laughs in the film version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When Lucy first meets Mr. Tumnus, she offers her hand, which Tumnus stares at in confusion. She prompts him to shake it, saying it's a greeting custom, so he grips her hand between his thumb and forefinger and shakes it back and forth, causing Lucy to giggle.
  • In Avatar, Jake offers a handshake to Neytiri's father, only for him and his guards to misinterpret it as a hostile gesture and point their weapons at him.
  • In Shanghai Noon, when they finally decide to work together, Roy offers Wang a cowboy handshake, spitting on his hand before offering it. Wang, confused and a bit grossed, spits on Roy's hand before shaking it, rather than his own.
  • In the opening scene of Mädchen in Uniform, two female characters go for a handshake but somehow miss each other's hands repeatedly.
  • In Thor: Ragnarok, Thor offers Bruce Banner a fist bump, but Bruce hi-fives his fist instead.
  • Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. In the First Contact montage the Kortan Dahuk, the first alien race to meet humanity, look reluctant to shake hands. Presumably this is because they are unfamiliar with the gesture, because later aliens do it without hesitation, apparently having been briefed on human customs. The final group of aliens are eager to shake hands...and the human ambassador grimaces as he realises his hand in covered in sticky fluid.
  • Played for Drama in Flash Gordon (1980). When our hero first arrives on Mongo he's confronted by Ming's guards and holds out a hand in greeting. A guard responds in kind, then his hand flies off the guard's wrist, grabs Flash around the throat and chokes him into submission.
  • In Bleach, Ichigo offers Rukia a high-five, but she has no idea what he is doing. He ends up teaching it to her.

  • Star Trek Expanded Universe:
    • In My Enemy, My Ally, James T. Kirk tries to shake Ael t'Rllaillieu's hand on their first meeting and is informed that among the Romulans, holding hands is considered a display of affection on the level of The Big Damn Kiss. Given a Call-Back at the end of The Empty Chair when, before parting for the last time, Kirk and Ael first hold hands, then kiss.
    • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation Relaunch novel Losing the Peace, Chen (a half-Vulcan who relates more to her human side) is leading an away team visiting human colonists. When she starts to raise her hand to one of the colony representatives, the other woman respectfully makes "the live long and prosper" sign, forcing Chen to vaguely wave her hand in the air and hope nobody notices she can't actually do it. She then makes it clear she wants to shake the other representative's hand.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Friends:
    • This happens to Ross and Mike when they meet just before the rehearsal dinner for Mike and Phoebe's wedding. Mike embraces Ross, during which Ross awkwardly says he was going for a handshake. Mike asks him if that's why his hand is currently pressed against Mike's crotch.
    • A variant occurs in an episode in which Rachel is interviewing for a job at Ralph Lauren. At the end of the interview, the interviewer says goodbye and reaches to open the door for her. As she steps towards the door this inadvertently brings their faces close together and she instinctively pecks him on the cheek. Comic misunderstandings ensue. During a later interview (and after clearing things up about the kiss), she goes in for a handshake when he was actually walking past her, which causes her hand to bump his groin instead.
  • In one episode of Modern Life Is Goodish, Dave Gorman discusses meeting the martial artist Alex Reid and extending his hand for a handshake, only to be offered a fist-bump in return. He jokes that in his head, he was actually playing a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, which he won.
  • Played for Drama in the Backstory of Babylon 5. At First Contact between the Earth Alliance and the Minbari Federation, a Minbari force approached an Earthforce flotilla with their ships' gunports open, which the Minbari warrior caste considers a gesture of respect.note  Dukhat, the Minbari head of state, realized what this could look like to someone unfamiliar with the gesture and ordered the gunports closed, mere seconds before the human ships opened fire in (they thought) self-defense. The result was the Earth-Minbari War.
  • Community has a UST-filled moment where Jeff and Annie alternate trying to hug while the other goes for a handshake, until Jeff decides to pat her head.
  • In Cory in the House, Cory has angered Meena's father and asks Newt to teach him the proper Bahavian greeting gestures to get on his good side. Unfortunately, Newt confuses "Bahavia" with "Bahamas".
  • M*A*S*H: In "The Nurses", one Sergeant Tony Baker drops in at the 4077th, where his newly wedded wife is a nurse. Baker steps into Radar's office and proceeds to introduce and greet himself by sticking out his hand for handshake, which Radar confuses for a salute. The two briefly try to figure out what to do, but just shrug it off.
  • Used a few times in The Big Bang Theory by Sheldon:
    • At one point, Leonard tries to give him a fist bump. Sheldon just kind of looks Leonard's fist before grabbing it and turning it into awkward fist bump/handshake combo.
    • In another episode Sheldon assumes that because Mrs. Davis is black she'll want to do an elaborate school yard handshake with him instead of shaking hands normally. She just looks at him after he finishes jumping around and says "I'm going to pretend that didn't happen".
    • Barry Kripke attempted a fist bump with Sheldon who just grabbed his fist and shook it awkwardly.
  • In 2012, David Letterman took to fist bumping some of his guests, specifically the "exploding" variety. Most of the time his guests are confused - often thinking he's going for a traditional handshake - but every once in a while someone (who has probably been prepped beforehand, or is a regular viewer) joins in on both the bump and the explosion, at which point Dave is both impressed and amused.
  • CSI: Cyber:
    • A variation in "The Evil Twin" when Krumitz and Brody make a breakthrough and try to congratulate each other. Krumitz goes for a high five, Brody goes for a fist bump, and they decide to compromise. Averted in "Selfie 2.0" as they exchange side-fives thrice, and then doing a groove upon celebrating running down all the names of the abducted women.
    • In "Ghost in the Machine", Brody and Sifter finally end up just briefly embracing after a series of confused congratulatory gestures. Contrasting with this is Krumitz's easy high-five with Brody moments earlier.
  • Sometimes happens in the various Star Trek series whenever our heroes meet an alien race that hasn't developed the handshake.
    • One of the most famous examples is towards the end of the film Star Trek: First Contact, with the Vulcan-Human first contact. The Vulcan emerges from the spaceship, says to Zefram Cochrane "live long and prosper" and makes the famous traditional Vulcan gesture that all fans of the series are familiar with. Cochrane attempts it, finds he's unable to move his fingers in the necessary waynote  and extends his hand for a handshake, though the Vulcan just sort of takes it in an embrace.
    • The previous scene is brought back in Star Trek: Enterprise, when they did the Mirror Universe. Cochrane acts as if he's attempting the gesture, only to then pull out a weapon and blast the Vulcan.
    • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "All Good Things...", Picard and Crusher as divorcees in the future. When reuniting, they have difficulty deciding whether to hug or shake hands, with Picard saying "Let's just pick one...", and they hug.
    • In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Innocence", Chakotay relates how he used the wrong gesture of greeting (which it turned out had to be gender-specific) and accidentally propositioned the alien ambassador.
      "I almost got myself shipped back to the academy for remedial training."
    • Star Trek: Picard: "Bounty" has a Call-Back to the example from "All Good Things..." during the scene when Geordi La Forge reunited with Beverly Crusher, as Geordi admits he was having difficulty deciding on hugging her or shaking hands before settling on a hug.
  • Deliberately invoked by Todd on Stargate Atlantis. Todd is a Wraith, who feed on human life energy through their palms. When brought to Atlantis (under heavy guard) for some Teeth-Clenched Teamwork, Todd says "I believe among your people it is customary to shake hands" and extends his toward Dr. Weir, causing everyone to immediately raise their weapons. Todd laughs and says "Just a bit of Wraith humor."
  • In one episode of Scrubs, Turk holds his hand out for a fist-bump from Ted. Ted first thinks Turk is going to punch him, then high-fives it.
  • Enos, the short-lived spinoff of The Dukes of Hazzard, features Enos responding to his partner Turk's "low five" gesture with an enthusiastic thumbs up, to emphasize the White Dude, Black Dude pairing. It quickly evolved into their signature gesture.
  • In season six of Supernatural, Castiel greets Sam for the first time since Sam returned from Hell. Castiel goes for a hug, but Sam goes for a handshake, resulting in a bit of awkwardness while Castiel switches to accommodate. It's an odd switch from their usual positions, as Sam is generally be expected to be more touchy-feely than the No Social Skills Castiel. It's later revealed about halfway through the season that Sam has no soul, and therefore no ability to understand emotional attachment, and even later near the end of the season that Castiel is the one who resurrected Sam, and while he didn't realize that Sam's soul was missing, he was confused when Sam didn't immediately move to reunite with Dean. Castiel probably felt guilty that something was off, and was likely especially relieved to see Sam back with Dean because he thought it meant that whatever the something was was fixed.

  • A John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme episode started with characters at a party not sure if they should kiss hello once or twice, before turning into a Public Service Announcement with John announcing "People of Britain! CAN WE GET THIS SORTED OUT?!"


    Video Games 
  • Final Fantasy VII Remake: Aerith offers Cloud a high-five, but he just stares at her confused due to his lack of social skills and knowledge of a normal life. It takes a while, but she manages to teach it to him.

    Web Animation 

  • Leftover Soup: Downplayed. When Jamie meets Wallace, he goes for a fistbump when Wallace initiates a handshake. Wallace points out that Jamie doesn't have to fistbump just because Wallace is black, but as Jamie points out, Wallace was trying to shake his right hand, which was still in a cast at the time.
  • Outsider: The Loroi are natural telepaths whose telepathy significantly intensifies through touch, and as such consider most physical contact a cultural taboo. Not knowing this, the human Jardin offers a handshake to a pilot, only for her to express confusion and ask what he's doing. When Jardin explains that it's a human greeting custom, she quickly takes his hand, apparently pleased to make the connection and noting how warm Jardin's hand is.
  • Scandinavia and the World: Turkey is embarrassed when he tries to talk to France after she's kissed him on both cheeks, not realizing that a French greeting has three kisses, unlike a Turkish one. The Scandinavians don't see what the big deal is until Turkey compares it to one person attempting a handshake and the other a fist-bump, at which they're suitably horrified.

    Web Original 
  • On Urban Dictionary this is referred to as a braux pas.
  • Welcome To Sanditon has a moment where Tom Parker, an older politician, didn't understand what younger Beau Griffith was doing with a bro fist and wound up shaking his fist.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Simpsons episode "Replaceable You", when Bart and Martin win the science fair, Bart offers Martin a fist bump, but Martin misinterprets it and kisses his fist instead.
  • In The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy episode "Dream Mutt", when Billy meets his dream dog, Wiggy Jiggy Jed, he offers Billy a handshake but Billy gives him a high-five instead.
  • In the Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends episode "I Only Have Surprise for You", when Mr. Herriman's back-up team to set up a birthday party that Mac is trying to prevent succeeds in their mission, the back-up team leader offers Mr. Herriman a high-five but Mr. Herriman shakes his hand while his hand is still in the air for the high-five.
  • In Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, when Harvey meets with Apache Chief, Chief moves to shake Harvey's hand... which Harvey turns into an overly elaborate awkward... thing... in an attempt to seem spiritual to Chief.
  • In Regular Show, season 4, "Every Meat Burritos", when High-Five Ghost and his older brother, Low-Five Ghost, tries to give each other five, they completely miss each other due to the type of fives they give.
  • In We Bare Bears, in "Chloe", when Grizzly asks for a high-five from Ice Bear, Ice Bear responds by tapping his head on Grizzly's hand.
  • In Samurai Jack, Jack is a man from ancient Japan who is flung to the distant future. At one point, he is offered a hi-five and doesn't understand until the end of the episode.
  • In Rocket Power, Sam offers Oliver a hi-five, but when he holds his hand up, Oliver thinks he was trying to hit him.
  • In the Star vs. the Forces of Evil episode "Girls' Day Out", Janna offers Star a fist bump, but Star shakes her fist instead. Star does the same thing to Marco and Oskar in "Starcrushed".
  • In The Fairly OddParents!, Timmy once persuades Cosmo and Wanda to pose as his parents for a parent-teacher conference. When Mr. Crocker offers Wanda a handshake, she gets confused and judo-throws him.

    Real Life 
  • Very much Truth in Television, even among people from the same culture.
  • Erma Bombeck stated that she never got the hang of how to greet people. As she said in All I Know About Animal Behavior, I Learned in Loehmann's Dressing Room:
    When I think someone's a shaker, he's invariably a hugger and I wind up with my arms stuck to my sides like a mummy that's just fallen out of its sarcophagus.
  • Michael Moore once recounted an anecdote in which he met Bob Dole for the first time, and unthinkingly held out his right hand in order to shake hands, forgetting that Dole had lost the use of his right hand following a war injury. Moore hurriedly retracted his right hand and offered his left instead, which Dole accepted.
  • This gif of John Mayer meeting Kanye West (which is actually a deliberate joke about white guys awkwardly meeting black guys).
  • Narrowly averted when Bill Maher interviewed Snoop Dogg.
  • This can happen fairly easily when people from certain countries in the Mediterranean and Latin America meet each other. You see, it's pretty common in both regions for people to greet each other with a handshake plus a sort of air-kiss where you sort of bump cheeks and do the kiss thing with your lips but don't quite kiss the other person's cheek. This is not considered sexual, familial, or even particularly affectionate; it's just how people say hello. The problem is that while in most countries that do this, they do more than one kiss, beyond that there's no consistency. Some places do two kisses, others three, a few even do four. Thus when people from countries with different customs meet, you often either end up with one person feeling the other one was rude or shy for giving an insufficient number of kisses, or with someone feeling put out by the excessive kissiness of their counterpart.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Awkward Handshake


Live Long and Prosper

Upon arriving on Earth and meeting Zefram Cochrane, the Vulcan leader offers him the traditional Vulcan greeting "Live long and prosper" and the traditional Vulcan salute. Unable to mimic the gesture, Zefram Cochrane instead offers him a handshake. "Thanks."

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / GreetingGestureConfusion

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