I arrive at a function here in Uruguay. It could be any function: game night, frisbee practice, a party, a spanish lesson. The typical Uruguayan greeting involves a kiss on the right cheek. Sometimes you can feign a kiss, but cheek touching is mandatory. Regardless of how many people are present, it is expected that you follow this routine with everyone present. This includes people you may not have ever met.
With each person you must also politely ask them how they are doing and respond quickly before moving on to the next person. People will usually get up from their seated position to accept your greeting (unless they are occupied doing something on a table like playing a board game). I haven’t perceived any special hierarchy as to the order of greetings. It seems like a proximity thing; whoever’s cheek you happen to be nearest gets the first kiss.
If you do not know the person whom you are addressing, it is custom to say your name after your greeting in lieu of asking them how they are doing. That person will usually also say their name. As you may be thinking, sometimes this results in both people saying their names at the same time and neither one will actually get the other’s name correct. It’s just the nature of the beast.
Sometimes a gentlemanly handshake is accepted as a greeting or farewell between men, but never between ladies or between a man and a lady.
Farewells usually consist of the same process as greetings. Sometimes when trying to leave a large group of people that you don’t know very well, it is acceptable to kiss those you do know well and give a hearty wave and “chau” to those you don’t. Otherwise a kiss for each person is required along with “nos vemos” (literally translated as we see each other).
For someone, like me, that wasn’t well practiced in the Uruguayan art of greeting, the act of saying hello and goodbye to people has resulted in some fairly humorous and painful moments. I have frequently and accidentally jabbed people in the head or eye with my baseball hat, I have stepped on toes, tripped on things trying to get close enough for a kiss with an acquaintance which resulted in my falling onto said acquaintance, and knocking heads on accident. All of these incidents were met with laughter. I mean really, you can’t be mad at the silly “gringo” for too long.
As you can imagine, the process of greeting and saying farewell can be long and tedious (and potentially dangerous) depending on the size of your party. On the other hand, it provides a personal connection with each person to whom you are interacting. There is an opportunity to address each person as an individual and show them with a small gesture that you value their company. I know that when I am greeted by my friends here I feel like they care about me and genuinely want to interact with me. I feel included regardless of what I am doing.
Just imagine if people in the US greeted each other with a kiss.