Kisses: a cautionary tale

“It had taken me some months to get used to the Provencal delight in physical contact. Like anyone brought up in England, I had absorbed certain social mannerisms. I had learned to keep my distance, to offer a nod instead of a handshake, to ration kissing to female relatives and to confine any public demonstrations of affection to dogs. To be engulfed by a Provençal welcome, as thorough and searching as being frisked by airport security guards, was, at first, a startling experience.”

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

kissing protocolYesterday I had a bit of a kissing dilemma. In fact, it may have actually been a faux pas. I had lunch with my mum-in-law and a perfect stranger. The stranger knew about me and I about her, but we had never actually met. The stranger also came with a host of cautionary bumph. Nervousness ensued, but it was a meeting well overdue, necessary and unavoidable.

I opted for a hand shake I think. Though in actual fact it was more like a kind of moving-closer-head-nodding-awkward-smile-proffered-hand moment with a giggle for quick recovery. It is still a bit of a blur.

The lunch was tentative and friendly. Too much was shared and yet nothing really said. It was all done for the greater good. But the kiss moment, no matter the situation always makes me think. And giggle.

When Hubby and I where dating I initially found the double air/cheek kiss extremely awkward. Hubby is English. Maoris rub noses (thank you Google). Americans hug. Christian Americans side hug (I’m reliably informed of this one by a friend who studied in Reading, California at a Christian college). Parisians do the three cheek kiss. Russian men kiss on the lips. Moldovan men will kiss a male friend on each cheek, sometimes repeatedly – loud and smacking (personally witnessed)! In South Africa all genders hug and men shake hands, or do a rather boisterous pat on the back. South Africans are extremely tactile.

Kissing and greeting in other cultures is normally something I watch in fascination and delight, but being of the female species, am fairly unimpeded.

When Hubby visited my family for the first time, the poor man was in for a bit of a shock. What I didn’t mention in the cultural kissing list above is that South African women have a tendency to kiss on the lips – some of you ladies out there, reading this, are voracious kissers, the rest have been the kissee! If you’re family, you’ll definitely get a smacker on the lips. If the kisser is elderly or an old family friend or has an Afrikaans gene in their body, or hasn’t traveled much or is buxom and smells of baking – YOU WILL BE KISSED to within an inch of your life – and possibly squeezed as well.

Hubby discovered this in situ. Unprepared was he.

He sweetly met granny, aunties, uncles, cousins, friends of the family and the entire village where my parents live and uncomplainingly succumbed to the kisses. He only told me afterwards that just about an hour before proposing to me, one of my friends, a complete stranger at the time, kissed him on the lips when meeting him. Oh the trauma!

Anyway, we South Africans also dearly love to laugh at our cultural idiosyncrasies and at ourselves, so we told said friend and she and I still laugh about it today and the role she inadvertently played in our romantic story. Oh how I love a good story.

Though it was strange to him at first and is still a little strange, I think that in some small way, like the author quoted above,  Hubby is both startled and delighted.

Small print:
Please read the rest of this particular description of greeting practices in A Year in Provence, if you get a chance. It’s hysterical. Please note that my own immediate female family members knew to kiss on the cheek when they met Hubby and no-one was harmed in the making of or telling of this story.

4 thoughts on “Kisses: a cautionary tale

  1. Yes, we are all a strange bunch down here! As a child, my family weren’t very tactile, and it was the old grannies that used to freak me out with their lavendery whiskered kisses; as an adult, yes, now we kiss and greet nilly-willy, but there is still some occasional reticence, mainly with colleagues, out socially.
    I can imagine your husbands despair!


  2. I found it difficult to judge the boundaries for physical contact in London. In Ireland we hug everyone indiscriminately. Then last year I found myself trying to navigate the (unspoken) guidelines of intimacy, gender, age, marital status, standoffishness, etc with limited success. I ended up beginning with a handshake that could potentially be pulled into a cheek kiss/pat on the back/awkward hug. Still figuring it out, I accidentally made someone spill coffee on himself with a poorly-timed half-handshake/hug. Awkward!


    1. Thanks for sharing your hilarious kissing/greeting moments… Love your humour :). I should collect awkward kissing stories. Would make a funny read 🙂


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