Wednesday, April 14, 2010

1 Kiss, or 2? (Or maybe 3?)

As an American in Europe, I encounter all kinds of cultural differences and I try to adapt accordingly. These include everything from table manners (eating everything on the plate vs. stopping when full) to how direct to be when asking a favor (extreme American politeness vs. being straightforward to to the point). I have found problems with one, in particular, that until recently I remained silent about. Kissing people on the cheek. I have no problem with the custom, in fact, I think it's nice! No, my problem lies in the awkwardness of the nuances in that custom.

Some people kiss on 1 cheek. Right or left. Some kiss on both, right then left, or vice versa. Then you get into the 3 kisses, right left right? Left right left? Which way you go and how many often depends on the nationality of the person you are dealing with. But then, if a French person meets a Dutch person, whose style gets precedence? As an American, do I get a say in the style? If I start going left, does the other person have to go left? What if we both go in the wrong direction and bump noses (or worse, lips?)? What if I go for one, they go for 2, and I look like I don't like them, because I can only stand for 1 kiss? Or what about the opposite? If I go for another kiss and come on too strong? Or what if they don't do the kiss thing at all, and are really just going for a hug and I get it all wrong? Oh, the anxiety!

And then there's the kind of kiss. There's the actual full contact kiss on the cheek, the cheek touching and kissy noises (but no actual kissing), there's the cheek touch, but no kissy noises, the air kiss with no touching of the faces... I'm sure there are more, and all add to the anxiety fo these social encounters! So what if I go for a full on kiss on the cheek and totally offend someone who wants nothing to do with my lips on their face?

And then you get into how soon do you kiss people? Normally there's one meeting with just a hand shake and then after that kisses are fair game. But what if this is a business associate? A client? A friend of a friend? How many meetings does it take to get to that level of familiarity? Do people get offended if I get it wrong?

Perhaps there should be a standard way of doing it? Or if that is no good, what about a list of guidelines for the outsider (erm, me) so I don't feel so flustered every time I say hello or goodbye to someone and end up feeling completely awkward!

Though I have to say, I feel better knowing that this is a problem for others, including other Europeans! The Irish, the Germans, the French, the Dutch! I'm not alone! Still, though, I would love to have a version of the kiss greeting to stick to that could at least be somewhat universal. Anyone else?


  1. Brody,

    What a fun post! I run into the kissing acrobatics issue all the time, as I travel a lot and live in different countries where I have expat friends from all over. We all fumble around and laugh and joke about it. In more formal situations I automatically just stick out my hand unless it's obvious the other person takes the initiative to play the kissing game.

    I heard that in France they can tell if you're from Paris or you're just a country bumpkin just by the number of air kisses you give -- 2 or 3. Not that I remember which one does the 2 and which the 3. Since I cannot pass as French if any sort, I am not concerned with my image in this case. Well, maybe not in any case.

    Good luck, and just laugh about it.