Don’t mind a bit of kissing but I don’t like that!

by Maria on March 12, 2009

In the interest of keeping CT as highbrow as possible, I have an observation about kissing. Namely, on-the-lips kissing between not-mutually-attached ladies and gents.

I do a fair bit of cheek-kissing and hugging, both socially and at work, probably more than most but not unusually so (I haven’t had any complaints yet). It’s really come in amongst the anglo-saxons in the past decade or so. Time was when only the French did cheek-kissing when they met. Perhaps as the result of many forlorn French exchange summers, or maybe just aping our more sophisticated Continental neighbours, the Irish and British middle classes began to do single-cheek kissing in the eighties and nineties.

I kiss a French person once on each cheek (twice if they’re a close friend or family friend), three times in total for a Belgian or Dutch person, and just one single-cheeked peck for a fellow anglo-saxon. In the last few years, a new variation has crept in. Married men who kiss me – just a peck – on the lips.

Cheek(y) kissing is now so common that perhaps for very good friends something more is called for? Or maybe it’s just an opportunistic twist in a situation where you can suddenly get away with kissing women other than your wife. God knows, I don’t dislike it (though I’ve never lingered), but I’m not in the habit of snogging other women’s husbands either (long live teh Patriarchy!). To call it a guilty pleasure would be to concede there’s something going on where it shouldn’t be – and there clearly isn’t, as none of my lip-kissers has ever made a pass at me – but I have to admit that I enjoy it probably just a little more than I should.



minneapolitan 03.12.09 at 7:05 pm

Married men who kiss me – just a peck – on the lips.
Wow. For real? That would get you a poke in the snoot in most of the circles in which I travel. Unless you were already pretty close friends with someone. But even then. Anglo-Saxons have got nothing on us Germano-Gaelic-Swedes for standoffishness and personal space issues though.


K Ashford 03.12.09 at 7:06 pm

Don’t call it a “guilty pleasure” then. Just call it a “pleasure”.

No harm, no foul, say I.


Another Minnesotan with personal space issues 03.12.09 at 7:09 pm

Double that, Minneapolitan. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with a handshake or a simple nod of the head.


Yusifu 03.12.09 at 7:14 pm

An interesting addition: among middle-class gay men in London during the mid-1990s, a single peck on the lips was pretty standard. That had changed to cheek kisses by the early 2000s. When a straight man’s involved it gets more complicated: some cheek kiss other men (gay and straight), some don’t.


Jacob Christensen 03.12.09 at 7:25 pm

First socialistsed health care and now kissing. It looks like the French really are trying to turn the US into the 101st département.

Next thing, you’ll be making wine…


scott 03.12.09 at 7:41 pm

I’m all for it. No harm, no foul, as has been observed above. I don’t see why greeting someone shouldn’t be enjoyable.


Psyche 03.12.09 at 8:16 pm

In my (large East-coast city, bohemian) social circle, the peck on the lips has become the appropriate social greeting between both a man and a woman, and two women. The men seem not to have made up their mind how they want to greet each other – I’ve observed the hand clasp/one-armed hug, the cheek kiss and the ass slap, as well as the awkward dance of muddled expectations.


Dan Simon 03.12.09 at 8:21 pm

In my circle of acquaintances, the appropriate form of greeting is an email, or for extremely intimate acquaintances, perhaps a light, delicate text message.


Anthony 03.12.09 at 8:34 pm

To me, it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it….

Hugging some men (or women) is like embracing a cadaver; as usual you head in purposefully, no wavering, with total commitment, (a half-way renegotiation is much much trickier). And then you get stiffed; no give, no take, just a taught inflexibilty.

Same applies for greeting kisses; I swear some people confuse the topology of their Kegel exercises.


notsneaky 03.12.09 at 9:47 pm

“Time was when only the French did cheek-kissing when they met.”

Huh? Lots of cultures have/had this. It’s the Anglo-Saxons and Teutons that are the exception among Europeans. South Americans do it too.

Man, another completely Western-European centric view of the world.


LizardBreath 03.12.09 at 9:48 pm

My social circle includes some lip-kissers, and I find I don’t like it; there are some people who I’m perfectly friendly with who I’d really rather not kiss and of course some who I enjoy kissing, and it’s hard not telegraphing that distinction when I’m greeting them at the same time.


onymous 03.12.09 at 10:00 pm

Me, I would prefer to eliminate even the handshake. A head-nod is fine, no?


notsneaky 03.12.09 at 10:06 pm

A head-nod goes to far in the other extreme. Part of the point behind these social rituals is to communicate a degree of trust and “I don’t consider you dirty”. Head-nod/bow does okay on the first one (I lower my head, I’m not looking at you, I trust you not to cut it off) but on the other hand it’s more of a gesture of submission (I lower my head and you can cut it off if you want to because you’re better than me). For the second you need SOME physical contact though (personally I think that the kissing on the cheek, or anywhere else, for that matter, is too much). A simple hand shake is a good compromise.


kid bitzer 03.12.09 at 10:11 pm

“no give, no take, just a taught inflexibilty”

taught indeed. culture rears its ugly head each of us.


Maria 03.12.09 at 10:14 pm

notsneaky – don’t be such an arsehole. it’s quite clear this post was from the point of view of someone from Ireland or the UK. Not just “Western”, but north atlantic to boot. Get over it.


Jonathan M 03.12.09 at 10:24 pm

Nope. Don’t stand for it. Fine doing it abroad (in Switzerland we do it three times) but in the UK? a warm handshake or preferably nothing other than a smile. I don’t want people’s horrid germs. I don’t know where they’ve been.


notsneaky 03.12.09 at 10:51 pm

You’re the one who said “only” french. Maybe I’m being an asshole and overreacting a bit but the whole “Europe=UK + France” thing is one of my pet peeves.


kid bitzer 03.12.09 at 10:51 pm

maria–is the title a quote from something clever?

because if it is an expression of your own attitude, then i find it hard to reconcile with the final line of your post.

(that’s not an allegation of inconsistency, just a question.
you don’t like it, but you enjoy it… so, on the whole, would you prefer your friends to meet your lips or not? we are biddable either way, and only opposed to forced bussing.)


mollymooly 03.12.09 at 11:11 pm

@LizardBreath: if your name is anything to go by, I don’t want to lip-kiss you either.


Uncle Kvetch 03.12.09 at 11:24 pm

An interesting addition: among middle-class gay men in London during the mid-1990s, a single peck on the lips was pretty standard. That had changed to cheek kisses by the early 2000s.

When I was in Paris in the late ’90s I was surprised to see that lip-kissing was pretty much the norm among gay men there–even upon a first introduction to someone by a mutual acquaintance. Not being a particular touchy-feely type, I wasn’t crazy about it, and I wondered why the good old French bise had been supplanted.

The lip-kiss is pretty much de rigueur among gay men here in NYC now, but I’d be delighted to see us follow the lead of our London brethren in this regard.


Jacob T. Levy 03.12.09 at 11:57 pm

I’ve lived in New York and now live in Montreal– both very kiss-greeting-oriented places by my New Hampshire standards. But I don’t think I’ve ever even witnessed a social-greeting lip-kiss.


Maria 03.13.09 at 12:22 am

kid (18), yes, it’s an old quote, delivered with northern England accent. Bit obscure, in fairness. so obscure I can’t quite remember where I first heard it … apols.


Maria 03.13.09 at 12:24 am

Fair enough notsneaky – I do share your general peevedness at the Europe=England+France, and also the assumption that “England” is a synonym for “Britain”.


Righteous Bubba 03.13.09 at 12:27 am

“The English army had just won the war…”

And all that kissy stuff? Ick.


Eszter 03.13.09 at 1:40 am

I don’t think this has ever happened to me and that’s a good thing, because I wouldn’t like it. I reserve lip-kissing to romantic interests. Fortunately, I’ve never been kissed on the lips by someone I didn’t want to be kissed by as I think I tend to be pretty good about positioning myself accordingly.

The following is a somewhat different issue, but this discussion reminded me of it. Once when I ran into an ex I hadn’t seen in a few years, he held out his hand for a hand-shake. This caught me off-guard so much that I just shook it in return. But immediately after I thought: that’s crazy. We’ve slept together, shared a bed and now we’re shaking hands?! It seemed bizarre.


Kieran Healy 03.13.09 at 2:43 am

maria—is the title a quote from something clever?

I thought the canonical version is “I don’t mind kissing, but I hate that”.


geo 03.13.09 at 3:09 am

I think it can be shown deductively that osculatory salutation is socially desirable.

I. Let “attractive” be defined as “inducing a desire in strangers to kiss one.”

II. If M and F are both attractive, then desire is gratified on both sides. (Cf. William Blake: “What is it men in women most require?/The lineaments of gratified desire./And what in men do women most require?/The lineaments of gratified desire.”)

III. If F is attractive and M is not, then M’s desire is gratified and F has the satisfaction of gratifying M’s desire.

IV. If M is attractive and F is not, then F’s desire is gratified and M has the satisfaction of gratifying F’s desire.

V. If neither M nor F is attractive, then kissing allows one or both to believe that he/she may be attractive after all, or that the other person believes him/her to be, or that the other person believes only him/herself to be but is being kind. Each of these conclusions is gratifying.



geo 03.13.09 at 3:11 am

Sorry: in the above definition, “strangers” should simply be “others.”


Steve LaBonne 03.13.09 at 3:26 am

But even then. Anglo-Saxons have got nothing on us Germano-Gaelic-Swedes for standoffishness and personal space issues though.

How do you know when a Norwegian guy likes you? He looks at your shoes when he talks to you.


Dru 03.13.09 at 4:46 am

It was not ever so with the Anglo-Saxons. Thus:

þinceð him on mode
þæt he his mondryhten
clyppe ond cysse,
ond on cneo lecge
honda ond heafod

( He thinks in his mind
that he embraces and kisses his lord
and on his knee lays
his hand and head)

…but then apparently we used to eat garlic too, before it became Forrin and undesirable. It’s Napoleon I blame.


cheem 03.13.09 at 5:19 am

I do find hugging as greeting impolite and discomfiting, though. “You’re intruding on my personal space and you think I should hug you back? I owe you nothing, ” is the instinctive thought process that goes through my mind. And kissing as greeting? *shudder*


Jo Wolff 03.13.09 at 6:13 am

maria—is the title a quote from something clever?

I thought the canonical version is “I don’t mind kissing, but I hate that”.

Funny, I thought it was a tribute to Meatloaf’s “I’d do anything for love (but I won’t do that).”


Katherine 03.13.09 at 9:12 am

The only person who accidentally-on-purpose got in a sneaky lip-kiss whilst purportedly aiming for a cheek kiss was the bloke who later on because my husband. I’ll let him off for that. But anyone else – nuh huh – a cheek kiss (and a hug for friends) will do fine thank you.


Chris Bertram 03.13.09 at 9:37 am

I think if I went for a lip kiss instead of a cheek-kiss (or even an air-kiss in the rough vincinity of the cheek) I’d be crossing a line around here, is this a specifically Californian thing?


Cyrus Hall 03.13.09 at 10:22 am

The first several months I lived in Switzerland were filled with days of social greeting anxiety. Having come from the mid-west, a strong grip of the upper arm, much less a kiss on the cheek, was unthinkable. Now I really quite enjoy it. Having a little physical contact throughout the day makes life ever so much more pleasant. I feel sorry for my fellow Americans who shrink in fear like I once did – give it a shot folks, it’ll improve your day!

Now lip kissing…that would still make me uncomfortable. But I’d be willing to give it a try…


Sebastian 03.13.09 at 11:46 am

I know that lip-kissing was very standard in 1980s/early 1990s Berlin lefty and hipster circles. For what it’s worth it’s actually mentioned by Christiane F. in “Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, but my sister who was 20 when she got there in 1988 tells me the same of her friends, who were/are typical lefty activist/intellectual types.
(But then again, so were open relationships, so…)

In Berlin it was certainly considered countercultural and it has never spread (while hugs and kisses are, all prejudices to the contrary, are increasingly popular among younger Germans).


Eszter 03.13.09 at 12:17 pm

I’ve sometimes thought it would be helpful to have a guide that covered each country. With the number of places I’ve lived, I sometimes forget the local conventions when I return. I definitely know it’s two in Hungary (the country where I grew up for the most part), but even there I think sometimes I get the initial side wrong these days.

Wikipedia’s entry on cheek-kissing seems rather poor. This piece in Time covers some countries, but obviously excludes many others.


Chris Bertram 03.13.09 at 12:41 pm


Eszter 03.13.09 at 12:57 pm

Chris, I saw the BBC piece, but didn’t find it that helpful, that’s why I didn’t link to it. (Instead of a discussion and anecdotes, a simple table would suffice here, assuming things are that straight forward.) The France map is great (but it suggests things may not be that straight forward).


Jacob Christensen 03.13.09 at 1:00 pm

It gets even more complicated when other parameters are taken into account:

For instance, in Denmark you are expected to offer a firm (preferably very firm) handshake when you are introduced to someone but also to keep a certain distance (getting any closer than 50-75 cm makes us Scandinavians feel very uncomfortable, even if French style kissing has made some inroads in these parts of the world).

In France, handshakes are supposed to be loose, but it is perfectly ok to stand very close to strangers.

Trying to kiss someone, you don’t know very well, on the mouth in Scandinavia would probably earn you either a Glasgow kiss or a trip to the nearest police station.


Frowner 03.13.09 at 1:16 pm

I don’t like greeting people in lefty/bohemian circles (and of course as an anarchist I, alas, have to greet a lot of other lefty types). There’s always some little fashion, some typical left oneupmanship—oh, now the fashionable left doesn’t kiss on the lips anymore, or does, or gives high-fives, or whatever….you dull bourgeois cheek-kisser. And all this is strongly moralized; I’ve lost count of the various conversations I’ve had about hugging people and why it’s all good right and salutary. But what I’ve always suspected is that it’s mostly about touching people you find attractive; and since I hate the set of reckonings about attractiveness–I hate wondering whether I’m getting duty hugs instead of desired ones, I hate hugging people just so that they won’t feel left out, I hate hugging people on whom I have undisclosed crushes, I hate getting hugged by people who are interested in me but in whom I’m not interested, and most of all I hate seeing my awkward male friends give creepy hugs to my female friends–I just hate socially-mandated hugging generally. And kissing. And so on. I mean, I have friends I hug, but that’s from pure enthusiasm when the mood strikes me. Gah. I hope this kissing business doesn’t make it to the provinces.


kid bitzer 03.13.09 at 2:01 pm


“it’s an old quote, delivered with northern England accent”

thanks for clarification, maria.

then am i right to assume that the referent of “that” which the speaker does not like is not kissing, but northern england accents?


Maria 03.13.09 at 2:26 pm

harhar, kid. nope, I’m pretty sure “that” refers to more intimate gestures of affection that are beyond the pale as a first form of greeting in any culture!


kid bitzer 03.13.09 at 2:47 pm

dear miss manners,

my new lass and i seemed to hit it off on our first date. things were going really well, and i thought she was dead keen on me.
then when i was saying goodnight to her, i put on a northern england accent.
she slapped me.

can you tell me–is there some sort of rule about when it’s acceptable, or after how many dates?

also–what do you think about speaking geordie before marriage?

signed, troubled in tyneside.


Colin Danby 03.13.09 at 4:45 pm

Thanks to Chris for passing on the entrancing combien de bises map. Can anyone explain the regional variations?


Jo Wolff 03.13.09 at 6:21 pm

I don’t think it mentioned kissing but when I went to the US on a scholarship in the 80s I was given a booklet with some advice. The two things I remember are that, first, if you go and stay with someone, you wouldn’t be expected to take your own towels, and, second, that Americans get uncomfortable if you stand close to them while in conversation.


harry b 03.13.09 at 7:00 pm

Ok, so here’s my story. About 8 years ago, someone who was a very close friend in secondary school came to meet me at my house (then in England). I hadn’t seen her for 14 years, and that had been a sudden and brief meeting on the stree — we hadn’t really been in much contact for 19 years. But we had developed a close correspondence in the previous few months. She came to my house, and my wife let her in, and therefore witnessed us seeing each other for the first time in all that time. Our eyes met, we both wryly grinned and said “hello” quietly, at a distance of several feet. We were delighted to see each other and neither of us doubted the other was delighted. My wife (American) was a shocked by the lack of affect/physicality/whatever. That’s how I want to greet and be greeted by people I care about. (except my wife and kids).

Kissing of any kind, and touching of most kinds is reserved for wife and kids, except, perhaps, for a bride I care about a lot on her wedding day, and perhaps a hug for someone I really care about to say goodbye.

In other words, the two Minnesotans upthread explained in a few words why I belong in the midwest. I had wondered.


Xanthippas 03.13.09 at 9:00 pm

As a Texan I am quite bemused and educated by this. Down here, nobody kisses anybody on anything!


notsneaky 03.13.09 at 9:15 pm

Re:48, yeah, I saw that on King of the Hill


flubber 03.14.09 at 1:23 am

Re: 49, brief aside – King of the Hill is a damn accurate portrait of small town/exurb Texas life, as someone who spent my first 20 years there. Family and friends included those characters, with eerie resemblance.


Righteous Bubba 03.14.09 at 1:27 am

King of the Hill is a damn accurate portrait of small town/exurb Texas life, as someone who spent my first 20 years there.

I’m glad to hear it. It’s a terrific show.


notsneaky 03.14.09 at 1:39 am

I’m with you here folks.


Nix 03.16.09 at 12:56 am

Shiver. Nobody ever tries social kissing with me more than once: the intense flinch away and outburst of stammering is a sign that it is, perhaps, not a good idea.

(But then even handshakes have that effect to some degree.)

If this does come in, I hope there’s some giant sign I can hold up to say, y’know, NO THANKS ALL TOO CONFUSING KTHX or something like that.


OmenAugur 03.16.09 at 6:11 am

In my experience, if a guy is looking at your shoes – it’s a pretty safe bet – He’s Gay.


2th&nayle 03.16.09 at 11:37 am

To quote ‘The Great and Powerful Bobby Hill’, I find the comments in this thread to be,”Very, interesting! Sorry Dad!” Having spent several years living in a small bedroom, ‘Fox Box’, community outside Dallas, I agree that “King of the Hill’ nails it on pretty much every level. However, having returned to my roots in Middle Arkanstone, I’d have to say that in my social strata, the hand shake and hug are pretty much the standard greeting of familiars. Even the casual male/female ‘lip peck’ of someone’s significant other, is not in and of itself, considered a serious breech of protocol. The male/male, female/female thing…..ahh, not so much. But that aside, considering this is not exactly a hot bed of liberal tolerance, I’d say, as local greeting customs go, it’s fairly laissez-fair. Which is not to suggest that you can’t get your clock cleaned if you otherwise don’t show the proper respect. Which, in my opinion, is as it should be, no matter where you come from.


Texas 03.17.09 at 2:08 am

If any of you comes here and tries to lay your lips anywhere on my wife, you’re getting my fist in your throat or worse.


Watson Aname 03.17.09 at 4:17 am

Note to self: knock Texas out before kissing Texas’s wife.

Seriously though, I’ve even seen a little of this (cheek kissing/whatever) in Texas (even outside of Austin…) , but it’s pretty rare… people are more likely to be a bit reserved.


kissinfo 03.17.09 at 6:00 pm

I grew up in the US surrounded by people from the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East, and all same-gender greetings involved at least one cheek-kiss. So you might consider that this is a product of cultural diversity far broader than that which you suggest.

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