I wait a little awkwardly, hand poised by my side ready to spring into action in case a handshake is necessary. Every time the dance teacher or one of the senior dancers arrives, this happens. I stop everything–while trying to look like I haven’t stopped anything–and watch to see if she’s shaking hands with the other girls and, more specifically, if it looks like she wants to shake hands with me.

When the other dance girls shake hands with their superiors, they bring the other person’s hand to their forehead or the side of their face. When I shake hands, I usually bow my head a little, unsure of the full meaning behind the hand-to-forehead handshake and unsure how strange it would be if I suddenly tried it. My language teacher told me that the hand-to-forehead handshake is usually a gesture from children to their elders and thus could advise me no further. I just try to be as deferential as possible while keeping in mind that I’m a foreigner and so all bets are off.

So, anyway, my dance teacher arrives and I watch as she moves down the line of girls–all of us arranged on the steps. She shakes hands with each of them and finally gets to me.

We shake hands, and I start my habitual nod. I don’t finish it, because at the same time my teacher moves our clasped hands upward, forcing the back of her hand towards my forehead. I go along with it, raising her hand to my slightly bowed head.

I’m grinning. It’s pretty clear how I’ll be greeting her from now on.


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