Modes of Salutation

Once we have been introduced to another, there is no need for the procedure to be repeated, even though we may not meet again for a long time. In normal circumstances however we will occasionally meet our acquaintances, and it becomes our duty to show them some appropriate gesture of greeting.

Shaking hands

The hand-shake is a traditional gesture of affection and goodwill. It is therefore better not to attempt it if you cannot use it with sincerity. The right hand must be used, never the left. The correct way to carry out a hand-shake is to grasp the other person’s hand firmly, but not tightly; gentle pressure only should be applied and the hand should then be released. Many people develop mannerisms in hand-shaking. There is the prissy handshake in which you are privileged to touch the tips of two or three fingers pointed at you condescendingly; the dead-fish shake, as cold and lifeless as the person who offers it; the bone-crusher which almost pulverizes your fingers and joints; the pump-handle which exercises your whole arm from the shoulder down; the boa-constrictor shake from which you wonder if you will ever struggle free.

We have already seen that where a lady is concerned she has the right to take the initiative in shaking hands. This is true of all occasions, not only when introductions are being made. A similar rule applies whenever you meet a gentleman of higher rank. In the latter case, however, such deference is not always necessary when the persons concerned are on close terms of friendship. Once a hand is offered to you, no matter by whom, it is a great discourtesy to ignore it.

Etiquette requires that a man remove his glove before shaking hands. A lady is not obliged to remove hers, and in practice rarely does. There are times when you may be obliged to excuse yourself from shaking hands because your own at the time are soiled from the work you have been doing. It is a simple matter to offer a word of explanation and then show by your cordial manner that no discourtesy was intended. Nobody likes to grasp a damp, clammy hand; so, if you have been perspiring freely, it would be better not to offer your hand. If the other person offers his, you must, of course, return the compliment.

Raising the hat

Raising the hat is a gesture more of respect than of affection. We raise our hats to persons who are above us in dignity, rank or station in life. In particular, the hat is raised to women. When giving this form of salutation, care should be taken that the hat is actually raised, even though only slightly and not merely touched with the fingers. But there is no need for any exaggeration in this, such as lifting it up vertically like a lid or sweeping it across the breast as though you were always marching past. The hat should be raised with the hand further away from the person you are saluting. This makes it easier for him to see who you are.

Priests, brothers and nuns are worthy of special respect, not only by reason of the authority they may exercise over you, but more particularly because of their religious profession, which raises them above the level of ordinary people. You should always raise your hat when you pass a priest, brother or nun in the street or meet them in a public vehicle. This applies whether you know them personally or not. You ought to accompany your salutation with a courteous word of greeting, such as “Good morning, Father” when this can be conveniently done. It shows bad training and lack of respect to walk past a priest or religious without giving any sign of recognition. It is worse still to pretend not to notice the person in order to save yourself the trouble of giving the salutation.

You should never fail to raise your hat when passing a Catholic church. This is an act of faith and reverence. It would show a poor sense of values if we were to omit this simple duty, while giving the customary gestures of respect and reverence to our earthly friends. It is a good practice to accompany the act of raising the hat with a short prayer or ejaculation.

We can conclude this section with some other occasions when a gentleman should raise his hat. It should be done when a lady bows or nods in recognition of a gentleman in the street; when two gentlemen salute each other and either is accompanied by a lady; when the lady by whom a gentleman is accompanied salutes her friend. When two gentlemen are together and one of them acknowledges the salute of a lady friend, the other gentleman should raise his hat as a mark of respect; when a gentleman apologizes to a lady or renders her some service, such as handing something to her, he accompanies the action with the raising of the hat. The hat is also raised whenever you are taking leave of a lady or when you are addressed by a lady you do not know. When a funeral is passing, it is customary for gentlemen to stand still and raise their hats. As we saw in a previous chapter, men are not expected to remove their hats in the confined space of a public lift.

The hat should always be removed when entering a private home, including your own, or an office that you have reason to think is of a more private nature. The same rule applies to a classroom. It should hardly need to be said that a gentleman never sits down at table to eat with his hat on.

Before leaving this subject of hats one last point might be added: amongst persons on friendly terms the raising of the hat is often replaced by a simple friendly gesture of the hand or a nod of the head.


If you are wearing a special uniform, you should replace the raising of the hat by whatever gesture of salute is customary with the organization you represent. It is a grand thing to see cadets from Catholic schools give a smart salute when they pass a church or meet someone in public.


When you meet persons in public or at a private gathering, if the number in the group is considerable, you are not expected immediately to go the rounds, shaking hands or saluting each individually. This is usually inconvenient and takes too much time. Once you have made yourself known to the hostess or other presiding person, it will be sufficient, for the moment, to acknowledge the presence of the rest by a gesture or a glance, accompanied by some general word of greeting. Later you will look for favourable opportunities of meeting individual members of the party.


A bishop by reason of his high dignity is entitled to special marks of respect. When meeting or being introduced to a bishop, you should bend the right knee, take the bishop’s extended hand lightly in your own and kiss his ring, the symbol of his rank and authority. Discretion must be exercised in deciding when this procedure might be impracticable or inconvenient. It is important to address a church dignitary by his correct title: “My Lord” for a bishop; “Your Grace” for an archbishop: “Your Excellency” for an apostolic delegate; “Your Eminence” for a cardinal.


It should be obvious from what has already been said about the various ways of greeting people that no discrimination should be made in this matter between our friends and those who are our real or supposed enemies. Whatever differences we may have had with others, the situation is only aggravated discourtesy. It is to be assumed that at least in public all are friends and worthy of the ordinary marks of civility.

The genuineness of our courtesy is really tested when we find ourselves in a situation involving the public recognition of one who has offended us. Much more than social etiquette is involved here. To snub another in public is not only a flagrant offence against good taste; it is also a breach of the charity which is the only worthwhile foundation of good manners.

Above all, see that you do not omit the usual salutations and acts of courtesy when you meet members of your own family in public. It is surprising indeed that boys can sometimes be so thoughtless in this matter as to extend less courtesy to their own parents than they do to comparative strangers. This is a case where familiarity, if it does not breed contempt, at least develops a tendency to take one’s father and mother too much for granted.

To be able to salute people graciously, to be able to make and receive introductions correctly and confidently are valuable assets in social life. Ease in carrying out these duties comes best from social experience. It is necessary, however, to make a study of the precise forms and procedures set down in this chapter. Many of the rules involved are quite arbitrary, so that even with the best will you cannot expect to know them without direction and observation. In matters like this you will not be excused on the plea that you are only a beginner. Social sins are not like moral failures; there is no guarantee of forgiveness, even for the repentant.