The final straw came last week at another international party. At the end of the evening, as at the beginning we all had to kiss each other and then the inevitable and embarrassing nose graze happened. At that point, I knew I had to get to the bottom of the minefield that is ‘social kissing.’ I did a quick straw poll once I had recovered from the embarrassment of said nose graze, and it turns out that there are no ‘standard rules’ with this beast. No, it seems each country does it their own way, and in some countries which part you’re from depends on how many kisses you plant on one another’s cheeks. Though us Brits are sometimes accused of being cold and emotionless, at least you know where you stand with a nice firm handshake.
But when is it appropriate to kiss? When you are good friends, when you first meet, after a few meetings or even in business meetings? Well, in some countries it is always appropriate to kiss upon a first meeting, in other more restrained countries you must know the person before launching in for a peck (or 2 or 3) first. When you are living abroad meeting other foreigners the situation can be equally ambiguous. A friend (British) living in Italy told me she went to a party recently and a lady she was introduced to for the first time (Austrian) asked her ‘do we kiss now’ as she was unsure. In the end, they decided it might be a bit over zealous on the first meeting.
Here is a quick rundown of social kissing practices in various countries so you can avoid any awkward situations and nose grazing in future –
Let’s start with France first as we have the French to thank for the social kiss. The French, cliché or not, love to kiss and can teach us all a thing or two about social kissing –
I asked a French friend how many kisses you do in France and she said, well, it depends. Great – so even the French are at sea with this and they are the ones that invented it! The general rule, it would seem, is 2 kisses, one on each cheek, certainly in big cities. The rather extreme 4 kiss approach seems to be the practice in smaller towns and rural areas. The two vs four kisses debate is being quite literally mapped out on the Combien de Bises ? (how many kisses) website, founded by a Frenchman wanting to finally get to the bottom of the issue. If you are French you can vote now for how many kisses you give!
Though the handshake is favoured in Britain over the ‘continental’ air kiss, social kissing is certainly becoming more fashionable, no doubt due to fashionistas and celebrities air kissing at any given opportunity. That is not to say that we are any good at it and often find ourselves in awkward situations where someone goes in for the peck on the cheek and is presented with a hand to shake. The social kiss (one, two at the most, definitely not three) is generally something that occurs between close friends and family – you certainly wouldn’t greet a stranger with a peck on the cheek. On the whole, though, hugging is more popular between friends than kissing and the handshake is definitely the safest bet in any social situation.
Brazilians are known for being tactile so it is no surprise that they go in for social kissing in a big way. Even when you meet people for the first time you will be given a kiss on the check and warmly embraced. In Brazil, how many kisses you give is regional – in Sao Paulo for example it is just one, whereas in Bahia it is two. There is also a saying that three kisses brings luck – 3 to get married, so watch out if you go to Brazil and are greeted with 3 kisses!
The Italians generally go in for two, the Dutch kiss friends and family an enthusiastic three times, the Spanish go for two like the Italians; the Germans, like the British, prefer the handshake but the kiss is becoming more popular and in Portugal social kissing is a class issue with the upper classes giving one kiss and the lower classes giving two.
Recently a rather enthusiastic President Sarkozy of France went in to give Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany a kiss on the cheek or two which was refuted and a hand offered instead. Well, if heads of state cannot get it right, there really is no hope for the rest of us!
We would love to hear about your social kissing faux pas and the practices in your countries so leave us your comments below.