The social greeting conundrum

Friday 12 December 2014
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After 6 years of living in the U.K, the art of cheek kissing still has me stumped. A hug? 1 kiss? 2 kisses? Oh wait....there's cheek kissing where your cheek only ever grazes the other person's. What happens when there's actually a lip and cheek contact? Is that too much?

There was the embarrassing moment in the Netherlands when I was pulling back after the second kiss and the other person was waiting for the third. Uneasy laughter all around. Lesson learned. In Amsterdam, do the left cheek, right cheek and do not forget the final bit - left cheek.

Recently, I had another awkward moment at a party as I reached forward to cheek kiss and the other person nervously patted my shoulder. Oh wait.... the rules have changed again. The other guests have had a few drinks and thought it was the funniest sight ever. This was probably one of few occasions when I'd welcome a sinkhole under my feet.

What about in more professional settings where one wouldn't think of doing any form of kissing?There was that other time when I happened to sit across an illustrious person within the fashion industry. I reached over to shake his hand and he asked for a ...............  fist bump. Whaaaaaaat?! Yes, you've heard right. I looked around rather uneasily to see if anyone was looking and slowly raised my fist towards his. My first ever fist bump at the age of 40 to someone who is two decades older than I. Is this how fashionable people communicate these days?

Previously, there's the one cheek kiss rule in England but these days, some folks expect a second. When I'm with my French friends, that's pretty easy to figure it out.... 2 cheek kisses. With my English's a bit of a guessing game at times. Some prefer a hug. Others reach out for a kiss. And the odd one prefers two kisses. As for my American friends, a hug is sufficient as a social greeting. 

Cheek kissing is something very new to me. We, folks over in Australasia aren't all that fussed about social kissing. You may expect a hongi if you find yourself at a traditional Maori ceremony but in general, we're pretty direct. We hug or shake hands. Full stop. But then again, we're pretty direct folks which may scare newcomers because we're not all that great at mincing our words. 

Let's talk about it from a cultural perspective. Actually, mine. I'm one of those global citizens from Asia residing in Europe with one foot sitting firmly in the eastern tradition and the other, western. The older Chinese folks will keel over if I cheek kiss them. There's no touching the younger ones too unless you know them really well. A hug if you're close or perhaps linking your arm with a friend of the same sex as you're walking but that's as far as we'll go. A handshake with a nod or a very VERY slight bow is fine if I'm formally introduced to someone older from China. 

Asians are more concerned about honorifics. We spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out how to call each other. It's the kind of social rules that stump most from the western world. Calling someone older than you by name is akin to a social catastrophe.  There's a title for EVERYONE. Say, your mom's younger female first cousin's older male cousin (got it?). Or your dad's fourth brother's wife's younger brother (you still with me?).  Ahh..... complicated.

There's that time when I was introduced to my sister in law's Korean family where I had a quick lesson in bowing. Let's just say amongst Asian folks, there's little touching involved unless you know each other very well. And absolutely NO kissing of any sort to anyone who's not your other half or you might get decked. Male to male - hell, no! Male to female - only if you want her spouse or boyfriend to physically take you apart. In any case, no cheek kissing. You get my drift.

What's your take on social greeting etiquette?


  1. I love this, it entirely baffles me too!! I am from a 'kissy' family, always welcome people or say hello to them with a kiss on the cheek that has now become two kisses on each cheek. However, I am not a hugger so a hugger meeting a kiss on the cheek person sometimes goes awkwardly wrong! Both my sisters live in Spain and I love that it is so straightforward..a kiss on both cheeks at all times and situations even when you are first being introduced to people...I like that no mistakes can be made.

    1. I remember it used to be 1 kiss. I think we've been influenced by the French but I seem to get it wrong half the time!

  2. I got a good laugh out of this article... because what you said about the US and Korean is so true... the hugging for Americans... and the "80-90 degree" bows for Koreans... :)

    1. The bowing thing gets me all the time. When, who and how low :P

  3. This is so funny to me. I am in the U.S. and my husband is a contact-phobe. He hates when strangers touch him, even a server at a restaurant. I suspect he'd have a hard time adapting in Europe ;)

    1. LOL! Ashley, I think he'll freak out if a European guy reaches out and do the double kissing greeting......



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