22/12/2014 01:46 GMT | Updated 18/02/2015 05:59 GMT



I am an American living in London. Aside from the obvious differences - we spell it color, soccer is football, it is tidbit and not titbit (you perverts) - the flagrant, haphazard, and frankly over abundant use of the ubiquitous 'x' (a kiss) sign-off in written correspondences leaves me baffled. What are the rules? Who deserves an 'x' over someone who doesn't? Is it a degree of platonic closeness you feel to that person? Do you reserve the 'x' for someone you respect? Can you send an 'x' to a colleague, a client you are close to, or even your boss? Can you sign off with an 'x' to a woman if you are a man, and vice versa, without sending a weird message?

With the 'x' are you saying in an exaggerated air-kissing style 'mwah, mwah, thank you darling,' or is it more 'hello sailor, I am imagining you in my boudoir at this very moment, come and get me.'

It is very baffling. In America we use 'xo.' This is the equivalent of a kiss and a hug. By inserting the 'o,' and the gentle platonic hug, we have taken away any misconceptions of the 'x' being inferred to its not-so-distant cousin 'xxx;' which turns the platonic email about last night's antics in to something much more X-rated.

Perhaps that is the hang-up for any American ears, as an X-rated film in the US is called NC-17 in the UK. So, in a sense, the translation of the 'x' as a sign off for Americans can be seen as this for the Brits: "Great to see you last night, it was a lot of fun. See you soon, Bob NC-17." It changes the meaning of that innocent 'kiss' in to something much more graphic.

Like most Brits seem to, my wife sends an 'x' to anyone. Her mom, brother, me, my mother, her friends, and even to the lucky Sky cable delivery man who sent a text to confirm a time for his service call. In one sense, I suppose it is a very friendly sign-off, and the guy did fix our sports package for us. But for a nation so stereo-typically reserved with your emotions, you Brits certainly don't mind throwing around the X-rated love in texts and emails to any old schlub.

At the very least, it might be worth following these loose rules in the office.

'Dear Colleague (someone of the same age and corporate position): Last night was sooo much fun! I am so hungover! Jill x'

(The 'x' here is perfectly acceptable).

'Dear Colleague (someone more senior in age and corporate position): You were hilarious last night. Thanks for staying out past 9pm! I am so hungover! Jill x'

(It still seems moderately acceptable).

'Dear Boss (someone of a boss like age and, well, your boss): The team had a really fun night. Thanks for the great dinner and drinks. Best wishes, Jill x'

(It is now on a sliding scale towards inappropriate).

'Dear CEO: (the CEO): You gave a great speech last night and the team was very pleased you came. Sincerely, Jill x'

(You are a ridiculous ass-kisser angling for a raise, or you are having a scorching affair with the CEO).

Aside from the fact Jill seems to be emailing far too many people about the previous night's antics, perhaps my puritanical American mind-set simply needs to accept the endless kissing you Brits enjoy.

However until I can get a better handle on this, and were we to meet over email, I advise you to keep a modicum of formality in your sign-offs. Until then.

Sincerely yours,