A kiss can express anything from love, passion, affection, respect, friendship or greeting. Let us look at the last mentioned – kissing as greeting or cheek kissing as a ritual. Cheek kissing is common in Southern, Central and Eastern Europe, in Latin America, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. If one is coming from a non-kissing culture, finding oneself living in countries where cheek kissing is used as mode of greeting, can be a challenge and perceived too intimate. Being kissed when you don’t want to be kissed is not challenging and akward. Rejecting being kissed when that is seen as polite adds a further dynamic as this can be perceived as lack of respect. So what to do?
When someone slowly leans towards you with the mouth slightly pointed to give you a compulsory cheek-kiss, you cannot physically push the person away. In most cultures, lips do not touch the cheek, one simply makes a silent kissing sound without really kissing, yet the other person is very close. Oh, actually, some South Africans will kiss you on the mouth, but in most cultures this is not common, and possible good is that if not for other reasons than hygienic ones. When greeting someone with the cheek-to-cheek kiss, be sure to target the other person’s cheek correctly or you might end up kissing the other one on the ear, which indeed can be embarrassing (and a bit funny) if in a job related setting.
10% of the world still does not kiss! That is – no kissing whatsoever. This may be for a variety of reasons including them finding it dirty and full of bacteria (which is true), inappropriate or it may be on religious grounds. In other cultures, female-female kissing is acceptable but not male-female. In many Muslim countries kissing or touching a woman who is not a wife or relative, can be punished by death. We can fully appreciate hygienic reasons. In 2009, cheek kissing came “under fire” following the H1N1 epidemic – not very tempting to cheek kiss anyone at that time irrespective of how healthy they looked.
‘To kiss or not to kiss’ – that is the question. Cheek kissing guides will tell you when it is appropriate and when it is not, not to mention how. You may label it ‘cheek-kissing etiquette’ which of course is country specific. From now on, before you travel anywhere, make sure you know whether or not to kiss, how to kiss, left cheek first, right cheek first, how many times on each cheek, whether you as female cheek kiss only women or also men, should you make a kissing sound when you cheek meets the cheek to the other person or cheek kiss in silence – there is plenty to learn here. The first time I met a Swiss he took me by surprise. I thought I was finished and reversed after having cheek kissed him left and right when he said – ‘no, it is three times’. Pardon....