Thursday, 31 March 2011

The Social Kissing Minefield

Social occasions are ripe for embarrassing situations and a perfect opportunity for me to show the world how awkward, uncoordinated and socially inept I am. Saying or doing the wrong thing in a social setting can cause mortal embarrassment but before you can even get to that stage you must first negotiate the minefield that is social kissing. 

It's not just the question of to kiss or not to kiss; you have to decide how many, whether or not to add a hug, which side first and any number of possible combinations. How do you decide which one to go for? And as if going through the nightmare at the beginning of a meeting is not bad enough, you then have to go through the whole thing again on saying goodbye. 

A few days ago I saw a friend I haven't seen for a while who has been travelling. He went for the standard two kisses (he's been travelling after all), I went for the one kiss and a hug combo that I have become accustomed to and we ended up bumping noses and kind of nuzzling each others necks in a highly inappropriate fashion. Embarrassing right? A rare occurrence? Not in my world.

A few months ago the man and I went out for an evening with another couple. They dropped us home, so we were faced with a scenario where we needed to lean into the front seat to kiss goodbye. After almost putting my neck out but having a fairly embarrassment free farewell with my friend, I then turned to say goodbye to her hubby. Disaster struck and we went in for opposite cheeks, I wound up kissing him on the lips like some doddery old auntie. Needless to say I was mortified.

These two examples are a mere drop in the proverbial ocean that has been my experience of social kissing blunders.

Which is your greeting of choice? I personally like the one kiss followed by a brief hug formula. The hug can be long or short dependent on your affection for the person in question. I find air kissing too contrived and leaving out a hug can feel a bit cold. I think men have it easier than women, they only have to make the decision with 50% of the population. A strong handshake is all men need to show their affection for each other, whereas us women have to settle the issue with men, women and children.

The social kiss conundrum transcends all our relationships, and has to be addressed with each individual. One persons air kiss might be another persons bear hug after all. With friends and people you see regularly, the problem is dealt with after only a few meetings. The first greeting might be awkward but after that you quickly get to know someone's standard format, whether it's one kiss or two (or four kisses followed by a lip kiss which is the preferred pattern of my adorable, ever so slightly eccentric, uncle) or adding in a hug. But when you meet someone new, before you really get a chance to get to know them, you must first work out whether or not kissing them would be appropriate or make you seem like an overly affectionate puppy. Too appear overly affectionate to someone you don't know, particularly if it's someone who already makes you feel intimidated, can quickly dispel any social confidence you may have been coveting and make you look, frankly, a bit desperate. How familiar must you be with someone before you go in for a social kiss? I see my neighbour every day but I don't kiss him, and the woman who works in Tesco knows my kids names but I don't kiss her either. All of this has been further confused for me by having lived in Spain for two years, where everyone seems to kiss, even the bank manager. OK, maybe not the bank manager but you get my drift.

So you have decided who to kiss and how to do it but how do you decode in which situation kissing is appropriate? It might be common practice to kiss someone on arrival a party for instance, but what if you run into that same person in Sainsbury's? If you only stop for a quick hello you might find you spend more time having physical contact than you do actually speaking which surely would come under the general category of social in-correctness.

It's hardly surprising we're all so confused. Us Brits have never really had a standard mode of greeting, and I have a feeling we are only just starting to shake our reputation of being frigidly terrified of any physical form of affection with anyone other than our lovers (a handshake will suffice). But unlike our European counterparts, where social kissing is so engrained in their collective psyche that it is no more anxiety provoking than having breakfast, we are still highly inexperienced in this matter of social etiquette.

What we need therefore, is an agreed set of guidelines to follow. I know there are a million books out there on the subject but the standard mode of greeting in Britain seems to be constantly contradicted. Are we a two kiss nation? Or a simple air kiss? And unless we all read the same book we'll be nose bumping and neck nuzzling for ever more.


  1. so quintessentially British, it is only we who have no idea... to the amusement of the rest of the international community, perhaps we should stay as we are?

  2. I know we must seem very uncivilised to the rest of the world! I for one would like a standard for the UK. Nose rubbing maybe? Or a complicated handshake finished off with a jumping chest bump?! Are you saying stay as we are with the nose bumps and nuzzles? Or give social kissing a miss altogether? I like social kissing and wouldn't like to go back to the days of the firm handshake. Nose bumps and neck nuzzles aside, social kissing shows affection in a way that a simple hello or handshake couldn't possibly do! :-)

  3. I reserve kisses for family (trying to avoid the really slobbery, wrinkly ones) and my man of course. I don't even kiss my sister so anyone doesn't get a look-in. I'd rather keep my germs to myself!