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Strangely I could hardly find any information about it on the internet. The question is simple: should a student expect to shake hands with a professor who is

  • academic advisor
  • the supervising professor who you're going to do your final year project with
  • A teacher who taught a class this semester and you're saying thanks to him/her on the last class

I'm an undergraduate student so the above refer to undergrad situations. Though I guess the question is equally valid for a graduate student.

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    This will depend on the local etiquette for handshakes in your location. E.g. if it's standard to shake hands during introductions in your country, then it's likely you may shake hands with a professor when you're introduced – ff524 Sep 3 '15 at 9:56
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    @ff524 Sure. Most English-speaking places definitely shake hands at introduction. Though I've seen it said somewhere that to extend your hand to a senior will be perceived as rude and that you should wait for him/her to extend the hand. And if he doesn't do it you shouldn't either. Does it make sense? – xji Sep 3 '15 at 10:09
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    Curiously, at the time of writing this, no-one seems to have prepared and published a world map of greeting gestures (handshake, cheek kiss, etc.) on the web. – O. R. Mapper Sep 3 '15 at 10:50
  • as someone dealing with a mix of Asian and 'English-speaking' cultures, I have dealt with both. When Asian students bow instead of shaking hands, I find it equally as welcoming as UK or USA students offering out their hand. I think it would depend on what you are comfortable with. If shaking hands is not something you normally do, and will act very oddly about it, it might be better to stick with what you are comfortable with. – user-2147482637 Sep 3 '15 at 13:49
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    @user1938107 That's interesting. What kind of Asian students are you referring to. I've been in Hong Kong for a while and I literally have never seen them bow once. I think I don't know it happening in Chinese universities either (bowing was a kind of collective etiquette at the beginning of lessons in middle schools, but I've basically never seen any adult doing that now). – xji Sep 3 '15 at 13:54
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Greet them in whatever way is natural to you. In university settings (where contact with different cultures is common, more so in graduate studies) they'll probably take it in stride. If they offer to shake hands, do so. Doing otherwise is certainly rude.

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    So it means I shouldn't extend my hand to a senior voluntarily, but I should wait for him/her to extend hand to me, and if he doesn't do so I shouldn't either Is it a normal cultural custom in English-speaking countries? – xji Sep 3 '15 at 10:09
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    @XiangJi I don't think there is any custom regarding who should initiate a handshake in English-speaking countries. I also think it very unlikely that they would refuse a handshake (unless they have an cold or something and in this case they'd probably explain and apologise). They probably wouldn't consider it rude if you didn't offer a handshake either, unless you actually refused theirs. Basically, don't overthink it! – MJeffryes Sep 3 '15 at 10:17
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    Also, I'm not sure if you were suggesting this or not, but I think it would be quite unusual in English-speaking countries if you were to shake your supervisors hand every time you met them (assuming you are meeting regularly). Probably only at your first meeting, or after your final presentation of your project for example. – MJeffryes Sep 3 '15 at 10:22
  • @MJeffryes Thanks. Yeah I'm not saying every time. Just the first time we meet, the last class of the semester or a meetup after a long period of time. I thought by "doing otherwise is certainly rude" you mean "offer to shake hands with them yourself" but it seems to not be the case. – xji Sep 3 '15 at 10:46
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In the U.S., it is acceptable to shake hands in this environment. But in the classes that I teach, it normally only happens after the last lecture to say farewell. The handshake isn't required. Some students have kept a distance, while politely thanking me for teaching the class. That is perfectly acceptable too. Other students have thanked me via email. It depends on what the student is comfortable with.

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If shaking hands feels good to you, go for it! People in the U.S. tend to get a little lazy about it, but for most people, it's good to have more opportunities for touch with other human beings.

(The only exception would be someone suffering from OCD who has a contamination phobia. But you will notice that pretty quickly if you try holding out your hand to the person.)

Example: a few weeks ago my son and I felt fortunate when a medical specialist squeezed us into her already busy schedule. I shook her hand at the end of the appointment and thanked her by name, and I encouraged my son to do the same, since we both felt that it had been one of the most helpful and pleasant medical appointments we had ever experienced. She seemed a bit surprised, but pleased. My son and I felt good about it, because we really wanted to show her how grateful we were.

When we went for the follow-up appointment two weeks later, this doctor herself took the initiative to shake our hands at the end of the appointment. (This time we were a bit surprised -- but also pleased.) I think this meant that the contact felt good to her.

So -- if you like shaking hands, don't let social hierarchy or cultural customs hold you back.

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Of course, but do not do it often or it might become uncomfortable for the teacher. I just saw my professor today and he gave me a cute fingertip handshake and smiled. I was so happy but it was in no way threatening or predatory.

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  • Of course... Probably they won't perform the handshake each time that's for sure. – xji Jan 21 '16 at 13:34

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