How to Kiss in Every Culture

by Tina on February 10, 2014

in Raising a Traveling Tribe

Traveling Mama Kiss A kiss is just a kiss… or is it?  Knowing how to greet in a new country or culture is really important because a kiss in every culture does not always mean the same thing.

I grew up greeting my Greek family and friends with a kiss on the cheek but I never thought to do it with my American friends.  I found greeting with a kiss in Spain to be as natural as breathing.  I thought it was charming and familiar, but my husband found it to be a bit unnerving at first.

When we moved to the Arab world, I was warned though, that I should never greet a man with kisses, on the cheek or otherwise!  My husband thought he was off the hook until he realized that he would still be giving out kisses to men, something that might be really tough for a lot of guys.  He got used to it, and I came to love the fact that women did not just kiss with one quick kiss on the cheek, but embraced warmly and kissed back and forth and back and forth… and sometimes back and forth again if you hadn’t seen a close friend in a while.

In Scandinavia, most people greet with a handshake until they become friends and then greet with a hug, but recently I made a huge faux pas when I was in The Netherlands.  I greeted a new friend with two kisses and had a terribly awkward moment when my new friend tried to kiss me the third time and I just stood there looking like a confused dummy.  She was very forgiving and we laughed a little, but it was a good reminder to me not to get too comfortable with where I am and to be attentive to new cultures!

What about you?  Do you greet with a kiss?  Does it depend on who you are greeting?  Surely some of you have made a faux pas or two?

 

Photo: “Soho Greeting”, by Thurston Hopkins, London, 1956

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

un23 ilaria February 10, 2014 at 12:56 pm

what a nice post for the St Valentine’s week :-) Kissing is an interesting topic. I’m Italian and kissing on somebody’s cheek is something you only do with friends and family. With people you hardly know, or you don’t have that kind of familiar relationship, we just shake hand (and the difference is the smile you show to let them know you care). When I moved to France I found out a completely different world. You kiss on somebody’s cheek as soon as you meet somebody. I found it pretty annoying at first: imagine walking into an apartment for a party and having to kiss 30-something people’s cheek you’ve never met before!!! I got used to it but what I still haven’t completely figured out is the number of kisses you give … 3 in Paris, 4 in Southern France for instance ;-) … see, there is a whole study to do on “kissing all over the world”. Have a wonderful day Tina!

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Kathleen February 10, 2014 at 4:29 pm

France is quite confusing! I still haven’t got what region does what yet, but it makes it even more confusing if two forgeiners are meeting or there is a Parisienne in Nice! Ah the French and kissing, what a mystery.

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Tina February 10, 2014 at 8:23 pm

We did the same thing in Morocco and I remember feeling overwhelmed at first too, especially if the room was PACKED full of people! But I think it was so much better that way than here where you are expected to introduce yourself to everyone and no one really tries to greet you.

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Ariana {And Here We Are...} February 10, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Yes, this is always an issue when we travel in Europe! I had gotten used to two kisses, but in Belgium it’s three. It can be so awkward, and I’m always afraid of catching someone on the lips if I don’t know what’s going on! But I do love it– in England no one wants to touch each other, and I think that’s kind of sad.

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Tina February 10, 2014 at 8:24 pm

I like it, too. It’s such a charming way to greet!

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Papou February 10, 2014 at 3:12 pm

I love this subject. There are entire books dedicated to helping traveling people on the different cultural differences around the world. One of my favorites: After a large meal in China, a bowl of rice is presented to each diner. It’s very impolite to touch it, since it means your host has not satisfied your hunger.

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Tina February 10, 2014 at 8:25 pm

That is some very important information. It was also rude in Morocco to clean your plate no matter how many times they insisted because the rest of the family may have nothing to eat and it looks like you weren’t satisfied. Very tricky!

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Celena February 10, 2014 at 3:40 pm

I live I Montréal, where kissing is a part of the culture. It is really funny sometimes when a non Québecois(e) is introduced to the group and ends up in a strange kind of almost kiss on the lips because they are not aware of the “way to do it” ;) I had to learn how to hold back when I was in Copenhagen! Haha!
Great topic!

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Tina February 10, 2014 at 8:26 pm

So funny that even within the same country, much like some of the others are saying about France, that you have different greeting cultures!

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paperella February 10, 2014 at 5:00 pm

What a fun post, Tina! Well, as you mentioned, we Spanyards kiss a lot… and here in Latin America it’s exactly the same. When I traveled to CHA in Anaheim last month I totally freaked out lots of crafty ladies with my impulsive hugs and kisses ;)

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Tina February 10, 2014 at 8:27 pm

I am certain they found you utterly enchanting. I know I did!

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Corinne February 10, 2014 at 5:26 pm

Yes, it’s a little confusing when traveling between European countries…the 2-kiss or the 3-kiss! I also love the Middle East where men kiss men!

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Tina February 10, 2014 at 8:30 pm

Absolutely, though it is fun to see some of the western guys squirm! :-)

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Quyen February 10, 2014 at 7:00 pm

I’m an American and we are huggers! :)
http://liveitinerantly.com/

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Tina February 10, 2014 at 8:28 pm

I have gotten back into the habit of hugging as well, but I always wait to see what the other person does first! (Though that does not work if they are waiting on me!) :-)

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Corina February 10, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Ugh- I caught my English neighbor full on the lips once ..can you say AWKWARD! He looked slightly surprised…as did his wife. After that I tend to just yell “Two!” as we go in for the hello/goodbye kiss with friends from Europe.

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Tina February 10, 2014 at 8:29 pm

oh no! How awful and hilarious! Sending the warning in advance is a great way of handling a greeting!

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Victoria February 10, 2014 at 10:41 pm

Having lived in the Netherlands for 9 years I got very used to the 3 kisses, for male and female friends. There were quite a number of ‘nose knocks’ in the beginning! In fact I always found it very amusing that even with all my expat friends, we would still kiss each other 3 times despite none of us being Dutch. It felt so very ‘European’, unlike a stiff handshake which is so British (where I’m from).

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Tina February 11, 2014 at 4:09 pm

It is sometimes hard to know what to do among the expat culture- which culture do you default to?

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Jacintha @urbanpixxels February 11, 2014 at 9:38 am

Yes, a kiss is definitely not just a kiss. Being from the Netherlands I’m used to the 3 kisses, but here in London – if people would kiss at all – it’s 2. And then it gets confusing if you’re greeting a group of people where only one of them is Dutch. Do you then kiss the others 2 times and the Dutch person 3 times? Resulting sometimes in the awkward moments you described where you expect getting 2 and would get 3, or the other way around. Or people go for 3 because they know that I am Dutch…It shouldn’t be this hard, should it?

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Tina February 11, 2014 at 4:10 pm

haha! No, it shouldn’t be hard but it really is sometimes!

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Jonna February 11, 2014 at 12:33 pm

I love this post, its very interesting and I am quite surprised to read that so many british people say that they do not do the whole cheek kissing because that is one thing that I miss a lot about living there! Being swedish/chilean/american living in Germany where handshakes rule even among close friends I often tend to miss the “close contact” of at least receiving a hug from the friends that I hold truly dear. Unfortunately the handshaking does make me feel a bit more distanced to my german friends than for instance my italian ones even though I of course understand that handshaking as a greeting is a part of the german culture and should not be interpreted as a lack of appreciation, acknowledgement or closeness. But it is very interesting how different greetings makes us feel and how we then interpret (even though we try not to) our surroundings and relationships due to it. Thanks for a great post! :)

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Tina February 11, 2014 at 4:12 pm

I tend to give hugs whether it’s totally appropriate or not here in Denmark to my friends. :-) I always laugh and say something like, “We Americans are huggers!” then give a little pat on the shoulder.

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Jonna February 11, 2014 at 6:47 pm

Good point, I will try that approach from now onwards! Thank you ever so kindly for your reply! :-)

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Rita February 12, 2014 at 2:30 am

Hi!
Here in Portugal is usual the 2 kisses with family, friends, friends of friends… But I would never kiss my boss or doctor on the cheek, the best option is to shake hands.
Hugs just for special ocasions like births, weddings and funerals, but only to close family and friands! :)
Nice post.

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Tina February 12, 2014 at 8:45 am

Good point! There are definitely people you wouldn’t greet any any country with kiss but as a newcomer that could be quite difficult to figure out!

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Claudia February 12, 2014 at 2:58 am

Oh kisses!! Here we give two but the more privileged classes usually give only one, which is so annoying sometimes because you go for the second and you’re left there all alone… And there’s always this thought on your mind “yes I’m part of the working class!” :p

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Tina February 12, 2014 at 8:39 am

wow. So a kiss can actually bring offense when used as a weapon. That’s kind of sad, isn’t it?

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Emily February 12, 2014 at 10:47 pm

I’m from NZ, where kissing on the check is a very common greeting for acquaintances, friends and family. Hugs are reserved only for close family and very good friends so I find it a little nerve wracking being in Denmark where everyone after you’ve met them once wants to hug

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