The cheek kiss hello. For those of us expats living abroad that come from a country that isn’t used to kissing on cheeks to say hello, then this custom can be seen as awkward when you first do the cheek kiss. Prevalent in Europe, Latin America, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and the horn of Africa, kissing on cheeks to say hello is a very global phenomenon.
It can be equally awkward upon returning to your country of origin after years of kissing on cheeks to say hello—when you lean in and the other person looks at you as if you’ve lost your mind. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there.
WHEN TO KISS ON CHEEKS:
Art and scripture have shown us that kissing on cheeks to say hello has been around for thousands of years. The cheek kiss is a gesture of friendship. It is simply a greeting and is not meant to convey attraction for another person. The cheek kiss is most common between a man and a woman, or two women, but it can take place between two men—especially if those two men are family members. In most countries, it is done once or twice, but it can be done even up to three or four times in some cultures.
A cheek kiss is almost exclusively done on three occasions:
– Kissing on Cheeks When You First Arrive at a Social Gathering –
It can be quite the daunting task to go around the room kissing everyone on the cheek to say hello—even more in Europe, where kissing on cheeks is done twice! However, it would be considered rude in some cultures to not cheek kiss. Other people solely kiss hello when they are formally introduced to someone, or when they first begin chatting, however, don’t be surprised if you have to go around the room at some point and cheek kiss or be kissed by everyone in the room.
– Kissing on Cheeks When You Leave a Social Gathering –
As you are departing, once again, you are expected to make the rounds kissing on cheeks. The cheek kiss can be a bit awkward if you have been eating food laden with garlic, but everyone does it, so just bite the bullet and start kissing on cheeks.
– Kissing on Cheeks Upon Hearing Big News –
It is also expected if someone announces big news, such as they are getting married or having children, then everyone will cheek kiss the person who has announced the news. This is a very important cheek kiss. Don’t miss out.
HOW TO DO THE CHEEK KISS HELLO:
The cheek kiss hello can be strange, especially if you are not used to kissing on cheeks to say hello. In some cultures, the cheek kiss is done by pressing your cheeks together and then making an audible kissing sound. Other times, the kissing on cheeks to say hello is done by pressing your lip to the other person’s cheek and kissing the cheek.
The cheek kiss has more to do with gender roles than any other factor. Therefore, we thought we would offer some helpful hints as to how to do the cheek kiss greeting:
– Kissing on Cheeks between Two Females –
The cheek kiss between two ladies is generally a far warmer gesture than with other genders. Kissing on cheeks is typically done while laughing and smiling, and hands can be held or clasped, or even in a full embrace. However, if they are meeting for the first time, it can be just as reserved as between two men.
– Kissing on Cheeks between A Male and a Female –
This cheek kiss obviously depends on the relationship between the male and female. When you are kissing on cheeks in a foreign culture, then the male will lean in toward the female’s right cheek. The female will turn her head in acceptance of the cheek kiss. Generally, it is best for the male to not move for an embrace, instead make sure to keep a distance between yourself and the female. If they are very acquainted, then this can become more relaxed. Remember, sometimes you are doing this with complete strangers half or twice your age.
If you are in a culture that likes kissing on cheeks twice to say hello, then as the male pulls away from the first kiss, the female will turn the other cheek (forgive the pun) and the male then repeats the gesture on the other side. This gesture can repeat ad nauseum.
If there is one time when kissing the actual cheek with your lips, then it is when males kiss females—just a little peck guys. Don’t get carried away. I tend to stick to a polite cheek to cheek kiss. I also make an audible “mmmmmmmwah” sound which helps to lighten the gesture so it isn’t awkward. Whatever happens, this gesture must be done quickly, so do not linger in any way.
– Kissing on Cheeks between Two Males –
The cheek kiss between two males is typically done between family, such as between brothers, or uncle and nephew. . . etc. In this scenario, kissing on cheeks to say hello is generally done in combination with a hug. It would be awkward to treat your fellow male with the reservations and chivalry that you would treat toward a female. Get in there, give him a “bro hug” and then kiss cheek to cheek instead of a lip-to-cheek kiss.
If you are in a culture that kisses twice—such as parts of the Middle East—then men can sometimes trade lip to cheek, one male taking the lead for one cheek and then the second taking the lead for the second, however the complexities of this kiss cheek have to do with age, reverence, and status. We would recommend that you stick with cheek-to-cheek kissing between males in countries that kiss twice.
HELPFUL TIPS FOR KISSING ON CHEEKS TO SAY HELLO:
– First Tip –
We would offer is really more of a rule. Do not cheek kiss when you are sick. Just explain to the person that you aren’t feeling well and they will be more than grateful.
– Second Tip –
Be sure to have some form of physical contact. Above, when we say cheek to cheek, that means to be sure to press cheeks. It is considered rude to have no physical contact whatsoever. In other words, cheek kiss, don’t air kiss.
– Third Tip –
Just stick with the cheek. Whatever happens, don’t kiss the lips. This will be just as awkward with a stranger as with your aunt. For this reason, we recommend starting out cheek-to-cheek kissing before you even venture to kiss someone on the cheek with your lips. I’ve been doing this all my life and I don’t typically lip-to-cheek kiss.
– Fourth Tip –
Remember that awkward occurrences happen. Sometimes you are from Latin America and they are from Europe where the cheek kiss has slightly different rules—especially if you are at social gatherings in New York or Los Angeles. Be prepared to bump noses. Don’t apologize too much if you get into a faux pas, just laugh it off.
– Fifth Tip –
The final tip is to have fun with it. Look and feel relaxed while you are doing it. No matter what happens, you will have a wonderful time because chances are that you are about to socialize with some friends and family!
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