The social kissing dilemma

Painting on the Berlin Wall

I never quite understood what is the deal with social kissing. So, first of all, you don’t really kiss, you just rub each other’s cheeks, purse your lips and, if you’re into it, you also make a kissing noise, or a “smack”, as I have read it’s called. At the beginning, I thought people were actually supposed to kiss or maybe I was so used to my relatives kissing my cheeks as a kid, that I would mean the kiss; well, not a slobbery one, but a kiss nonetheless. Instead, I was welcomed with the cheek and when the other person had more protuberant cheeks, we would basically knock our cheekbones together. Or I would end kissing the other’s hair. That’s why I thought a hug was more meaningful and we could, thus, avoid the problem of not knowing which side to kiss and hilariously making hesitant moves with our heads in mid air, unless we accidentally ended up performing more than a social kiss.

Needless to say, it took a while to get used to it and to do it. In Romania, this is very common. Whether you do this to greet your relatives or your friends or even people you hardly know, it’s widely practised. As a girl, it’s mandatory to greet your female friends in this manner. I eventually learned which side to go for first in this country: the left, then right. I was feeling more comfortable with my social skills and ready to properly social kiss the heck out of anyone who crossed my path.

But this path ended at the border. As I had rarely travelled outside Romania, moving to Berlin meant I had to learn a new etiquette, actually more etiquettes, since the city is home to people from different places of the world. To my surprise, after having almost completely renounced hugging, I realized that people don’t customarily kiss here, but that they rather hug – again, there is a side you must go for, namely the right side. Sometimes they also briefly kiss – the right cheek – and hug afterwards. There is also an art of social hugging, keeping distance slightly, but not too much. Shortly, it requires some practice, so that you don’t get into some awkward situations.

Although most people from outside of Germany resorted to the German social kissing ways, I picked up some tips from my friends. In Russia, people usually kiss one of the right cheek, but outside of the major cities, they kiss twice, starting from the right side. In France, as probably many of you know, people kiss twice starting from with the right cheek; sometimes, even four times, as far as I have heard.

When I moved to London, the rules changed again, but this time it was more confusing. As far as I understood, the British are no longer so reserved, which means that, unlike before when they would simply shake hands and that was all, social kissing has become a custom, although not for all. The best solution I found was to stand stiff and look at the other person and try to guess their intention. Well, this doesn’t always offer the correct information, but as long as we don’t knock our heads, it’s all fine and dandy. It’s the funniest show to observe from the side a group of people from many different countries who meet or depart, especially if they don’t know each other that well. However, departing at the end of a party is the easiest task: since everyone is drunk and merry, all hesitation disappears and people kiss, hug, no matter, everything goes. Probably it would be a good idea to be drunk more often.

I’m curious whether you have experienced similar “problems” while travelling abroad or in your own country. I would love to put together a post of social kissing rules from different countries. Maybe this would decrease the feeling of awkwardness at public gatherings.

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