So, how much cultural competence do you think there is in
cheek kissing? Well, we recently started a conversation on SIETAR Europa’s Linked In group and the plethora of responses confirmed that there are various ways to greet with a kiss. But what may have come as a surprise to some of us was that the ways of kissing don’t only vary from one country to another, but from region to region, from day to night, from male to female, and from one person to the next. What I can conclude from the conversation is that my initially abstract title-phrase, the ‘art’ of cheek kissing, became to perfectly describe this social gesture: a gesture that has no rule-of-thumb, a gesture that is cultural as well as personal.
So, it seems that although cheek kissing is a common greeting across the globe, one has to be truly culturally competent to smoothly master the art of cheek kissing! Read about the differnces and learn that London is a one-kiss city.
Types of Cheek Kissing
But, before going too much further, let’s list the different types of kisses we encounter. (for the purposes of this article I’m leaving out full-on lovers kisses!) There are three different degrees to touching…. There is the ‘real’ kiss; from mouth to cheek. Then, there is the ‘fake’ kiss; check touches cheek, and, finally, the no-contact ‘air’ kiss.
See slide show ‘Greetings and Salivations‘
How Often Do You Kiss?
Next, how many times do you kiss? This ranges between one and four times; twice being the most common, four being very specific to certain areas. London is definitely a one-kiss city although cheek kissing is not a traditional English way of greeting. Neither is it typically Finnish, Danish, German, Latvian, or Dutch, yet, in London, I greet most of my English, Finnish, Danish, German, Latvian and Dutch friends with a kiss on the cheek. It’s always only one kiss
However, it’s a whole different story with other nationalities! It’s as if we are all rehearsing and London is going through cheek kissing training. With my Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and South American friends, they all have their own versions and numbers of the kiss. I’m always getting it wrong. So, I have to keep practising
Which cheek dilemma?
Next, comes the left/right dilemma. Left seems to be the more common side to begin with, especially in Greece, France, Italy, and certain African countries; but there are, of course, expectations to the rule. France is probably a country with the most variance in cheek kissing protocol within its boarders. One of the LinkedIn group members said that “in Northern France, in Lille, they kiss twice, and in Douai, 30 km south, they kiss 4 times…”
Who do you kiss?
Fourth, and perhaps most crucially is the question who can you kiss? In some countries, specifically in South-American cultures, it’s courteous to cheek-kiss anyone and everyone in your social circle, even if you’ve never exchanged a word with them. In other cultures, you only cheek-kiss your friends, or even only people you have spoken to. In yet other cultures only male-female, or female-female kisses are appropriate, whereas in others, only male-male cheek kisses take place.
And it doesn’t stop there, unfortunately…
- in the Netherlands, for example, the rules of cheek kissing may even change “between the beginning and end of the party” (Norman Viss).
- In Australia the protocol ranges “from the multiples and sequences… to a complete avoidance and dislike of the practice,” (Robert Bean).
- In Argentina, the number of kisses may not only vary from region to region, but from one socio-economic class to another! (Josefina Avelin)
- In Hungary, the traditional custom is “two kisses, first one on the person’s left cheek,” but the UN international custom is “three starting on the right,” (Bryan Hopkins). Either everyone in Budapest is very confused, or people just compromise halfway and kiss each other on the lips!
- In addition, countries that traditionally don’t cheek kiss are beginning to do so, such as England, the Netherlands, and Denmark.
How To Know What To Do?
The only thing left to wonder is how do we, who constantly cross cultures, cope with all this? The most sensible advice seems to be to “let the other person take charge,” “to play it by ear,” or “go with the flow.” Personally, I like the approach London has taken, the city of one kiss. It’s kind, neutral, and efficient. However, it’s very possible that those friends who enjoy kissing three or four times would find the London-way very impersonal. Bernard Meltzer has been quoted as saying, “happiness is like a kiss, you must share it to enjoy it,” but, then again, Oscar Wilde once said that a “kiss may ruin a human life.” I think I better leave any further analysis of this cultural, personal, regional, universal greeting to artists.
Also in May:
World No-Tobacco Day - May 31st
International Day for UN Peacekeepers - May 29th
World Day Against Homophobia - May 17th