Americans as a whole are not super touchy feely people. We like to have what Josh calls a “bubble” around us – we’re always saying, “kids, stay in your bubble!”. Ok, that’s more for when they are wrestling, but you get the idea. As Americans, we like our individual space. When you meet up with friends, women may hug each other and the men will shake hands and do a pat on the back. But that’s about it. We aren’t big kissers when it comes to our friends. Though according to my research bff Wikipedia it is common in small immigrant communities in the US like in Miami and supposedly it’s also common in New England because of the French Canadian influence (hmmmm… not seeing that in tight laced New England, are you?). Whereas Europeans are “known” for their double cheek kiss.
Now that I’ve been living in Europe for the last two years, I’ve become accoustomed to the “kiss, kiss” on the cheeks and am cool with opening up my bubble to be accepting of it and enjoy it. It’s a part of the culture and I want to blend in as much as this pale red headed American can possibly blend in. Even Liam automatically does it now (and it is so damn adorable too!). However, being American, it doesn’t come naturally to me, especially when it comes to doing it with another American, resulting in many a kiss faux pas over the years. Questions going thru my head like “ok, is this person expecting a double cheek kiss or do I go in for a hug?” And when you go in for the hug and the person is expecting a kiss or vice versa, it’s just an awkward mess. Do you preface with saying “kiss, kiss” in order to avoid the miss? Time and time again, I’ve messed this one up. I’ve still got a few years left here, I’m sure I’ll mess it up again as well.
So where did this custom originate from? Well, I don’t know. And apparently my google-fu isn’t good enough because I couldn’t find any information about it, though apparently there is a Yahoo group that is dedicated to the European kiss (but I couldn’t access it without a yahoo account and don’t these people have jobs to go to, who has time to create a yahoo group about European kissing?). And why don’t we do it in the US? I asked a local friend about some of the customs and also checked with my friend “wikipedia” to find out some answers to this very perplexing question.
From what I can tell with the little bit of information that is out there, as far as why we don’t do this in the US, it’s just the culture. We’re a bit stuffy when it comes to touching. We like our personal space. There are some countries that are very tactile and some that aren’t. I actually found a list of countries and it had two columns: Touch and Don’t Touch. Spain was listed under Touch and the US under Don’t Touch. The US just is and always has been a very hands-off culture. I’m sure it has to do with the Puritans somewhere along the line. And given that the UK has the same reputation, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it’s just been a culture passed down since before the time of the Pilgrims and then brought to the US.
As far as meaning, the cheek kiss can mean several things – hello, goodbye, congratulations, showing respect and showing a romantic interested in the other person. It’s common in most (but not all) of Europe, the Middle East and Latin America…not so common in the US, English speaking Canada (but is common in French parts of Canada) and Northern Europe. So does this mean if you are a natural born English speaker that you are immediately designated to be hugger and not a kisser? Hmmm… interesting… In Southern Europe, which is where I live, it is more common between friends and acquaintances but less common with colleagues. Kissing tends to be male-female and female-female. It’s not that often that it’s male-male but it does happen.
You always kiss the right cheek first with either your lip or touch cheek to cheek. Kind of like when we hug at home, we always lean to the recipient’s right. In Italy and Spain it’s 2 kisses whereas in Belgium it is just one. Each country has it’s own traditions as to how many and on which cheek – In Russia, Bosnia, the Netherlands and Egypt, the norm is 3 times. Interestingly in Oman, it’s the norm that after men shake hands they kiss each other on the nose (hmmmm…). For the French, it depends on the region – anywhere from 1 to 4 kisses is the norm depending on where you are.
So how do you know if you should or should not do the kiss, kiss? Even two years in, I’m still not 100% sure of when you should and shouldn’t do a kiss. So I put together a list of questions that I asked a local friend about in case any of you are curious or just want to avoid the social awkwardness that is a missed kiss as I have many times.
1. Is it when you first see each other and when you leave? Yes, if you are friends with them, you automatically do a double cheek kiss.
2. Do you do it only with those you know well or is it with anyone including those you’ve just met? If it is someone you just met you usually don’t do a kiss, but it’s something you just have to gauge when meeting them. Do they seem really friendly or do they seem to be a bit more cautious? If they seem friendly you can do the double kiss upon a first meet but it’s not necessary either and they shouldn’t be insulted if you don’t.
3. Is it under any and all circumstances or only in social situations? For instance, Liam has a few friends who’s dads work at the school. Now at school I would never go up to them and do a kiss (or should I??) if I saw them on campus, but if I were to see them socially I would. Is that correct or do you kiss no matter what? Yes, you can kiss them even if they are at work. They are friends and it is the norm here that even if you are working, it’s ok to do this exchange.
4. And is it an insult if you don’t kiss someone? Do they thinking you are a kissing snob if you don’t do it? It is not considered an insult if you don’t kiss upon your first meeting. But if it is someone that you know relatively well and you don’t do the kiss, it will be a bit on the awkward side. So avoid this situation and go with the kiss always!
5. Is there anyone you shouldn’t kiss? The only times you wouldn’t kiss someone is if perhaps you know they are from a culture that doesn’t traditionally do a kiss. Or if it’s in the case of a formal business meeting. You should not kiss your boss (hopefully that one’s a given!).
So hopefully I have given everyone a little bit of insight into the “correct” way to function in European society and with this there will be less faux pas (especially by yours truly). And from now on, when in Rome, I shall do as the Romans…and so I shall be signing off with kisses (in Spanish of course).