Since moving to the Cotswolds the amount of social kissing I am expected to engage in has increased significantly. By social kissing, I don't mean snogging in the street like a teenager, I mean cheek brushing and lip puckering with a loud 'mwahh'.
Social kissing is no longer the behest of ladies who lunch or those who live on the continent. Anybody can do it. It's no longer pretentious or intimate, it's normal. Observation shows that the more creative your job, the higher your social status or the more extravagant your personality, the more dramatic your kiss might be.
People's method of social kiss is generally pretty consistent. In my town the standard is a two kiss greeting (one on each cheek). But, an upper-crust friend of mine gives a more extravagant kiss the more exciting the occasion. When I arrive for a cup of tea at his home he does a casual one cheek air kiss. When meeting on a Friday night at the local pub he gives a warm, two kiss, lip-contact-to-cheek welcome. After a boozy day at the races he often gives a very enthusiastic proper (closed) lip kiss with a big hug and much more noise.
Ladies social kiss even when dropping their children off at school. They kiss when saying hello for a quick midweek lunch, they kiss goodbye and they kiss each other's husbands. But they should beware, their advances may not be welcome. My husband for example finds the social kiss intensely awkward and it has led to almost a social anxiety. He has identified some women who always try and greet him with a kiss. His coping strategy is to look away and take a step backwards whilst saying a quick hello and moving on quickly.
When considering your approach to this mysterious form of social interaction beware of non-UK traditions: on the continent one, two, three or four kisses can be the norm. In Jordan one kiss on the left cheek precede several on the right (depending on how much you like the person). In Greece men often social kiss other men, which wouldn't be permitted in the Middle East.
In Malaysia, a younger relative often kisses an older relative's hand as a mark of respect. The tricky technique to this social kiss involves blowing out through your nose onto the older relative's hand with no lip pursing.
Here are some suggestions to hopefully avoid a misappropriated social kiss and to make the experience more pleasant for both the kiss giver and the receiver.
You could follow these guidelines:
- Make sure your lips aren't particularly wet when you go for the kiss. Lingering saliva leads to embarrassment for the kiss receiver about whether to wipe their face immediately or wait until you're not looking.
- Go for the right cheek first and then the left - choose a two kiss standard method.
- Apparently lovers, or ex-lovers should only receive one kiss.
- To lean in and make absolutely no contact (an air kiss) makes the kiss pretentious, make sure that your kiss touches the receiver's cheek.
- If you're greeting a man and you are also a man, go for a friendly handshake. You can increase the amiability and feeling of camaraderie by putting your other hand on top of the handshake, clasping and shaking the receiver's hand warmly. Be aware though that some men do kiss others and have a back-up plan at the ready so that you're not caught out.
- Going for a kiss when the other person rejects your advance is embarrassing, so only do it if you're sure it will be well received - you could let the other person take the lead.
- Avoid kissing somebody you haven't met before. But, if they already have a well-established social kissing routine and lean towards you then join in. You could say 'lovely to meet you' whilst they kiss your cheek/s to avoid making any kissing noise or appearing over familiar.
- A kiss may be called for when saying goodbye. Perhaps you could reserve this for people that you've had a particularly good conversation with.
Whatever your decisions about social kissing, plan your strategy and if you do decide to advance, be confident.