When you meet someone who you do not know. You will formally greet him/her with "Hallo", "Guten Tag" or "Guten Morgen" (whichever is appropriate) with a handshake. I want to know, when is more appropriate to say the greeting?

1. When you see each other
2. When you forward your hand for handshaking
3. While handshaking?

If there are other formal ways of greeting I would welcome your answers.


"whichever is appropriate" is too vague for a detailed question regarding a time slot of mere seconds.

In general it is "simultanously".

Because "in general" people might try to execute simultanous tasks: noticing the other('s importance to greet), acknowledging that a greeting with handshake is expected, interrupt your current doing & thinking (=start a complete new situation), evaluate the other's social state, coordinate your body movement & talking, ...

In Germany there should be no ethical reason to avoid handshaking in the first place. Should be = my understanding of "german culture" sees handshaking with unknown persons I will talk a while / gonna welcome / is part of group I meet / ... a normal thing. Regardless gender, "race", age, ...

=> any attempt to avoid handshaking needs to be triggered by the other.

Then there are some differences:

  • a single person vs. a group of persons (related to who you greet)
  • level of "formal": from a unknown postman to a queen
  • how far away have you been since eye contact?
  • is it from context or culture even a good thing to shake hands?

single person:

  • might happen "when you see each other" - because you have a reason to greet thus you are still unsure if hand shaking is appropriate

group of persons:

  • when you have to greet every single of them, it comes "from move forward to handshake" - because the time frame is very small as you need to pass along to the next

level of "formal":

  • "postman": possibly no handshake at all
  • any business contact: depends more on single/group of people
  • any "high official": there is a protocol which someone will explain to you beforehand (and this detail might still lack)
  • level of "formal" determines which greeting is (more or less) appropriate


  • the closer you are in the beginning, the less it is even possible to distinguish between these three moments
  • it seems uncommon to say the greeting with the intention to handshake if you are more than an arm's lenght away

culture/ context:

  • big question is: do you handshake or not?
    • yes: see above for further
    • no: well, why no? one of both might refuse: having the cold / being unable to free hand from any glove (in time) / no handshake between male & female / ...
  • There's not much specific for german language you mention in your answer. That's probably a problem more related to social interactions than concrete language. – πάντα ῥεῖ Aug 13 '19 at 14:03
  • @πάνταῥεῖ: I agree that this behaviour might be valid to other languages as well. My core believe is that culture and language determines each other (Henne-Ei) thus in a different language there might be a slightly different way. – Shegit Brahm Aug 13 '19 at 14:32
  • As I understand it, the "whichever is appropriate" in the question refers to "Guten Tag" vs. "Guten Morgen". – Volker Landgraf Aug 13 '19 at 19:33
  • @VolkerLandgraf: as I understand, there is also "Hallo" mentioned, which is appropriate ... depending on the level of "formal". I use it for business contacts only in case the unknown ones are same company as the known ones and both are present. – Shegit Brahm Aug 14 '19 at 7:04

The most usual sequence is simply: you see somebody, say immediately "Guten Tag" (or whatever), then you move closer to him and reach out for his hand. Then you shake your hands, usually without further speaking, but with an emphasized friendly smile. You continue speaking after the handshake has finished, usually with some small talk topic.

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