I wasn’t raised to kiss non-family members hello and goodbye.
If I unblock memories of my teenage years, I suppose I might find a few random, squealy, girly hugs in there somewhere.
Hugs and kisses between adults don’t seem to be America’s cup of tea. An exception could be for someone we haven’t seen in a while. Maybe. We shake hands with acquaintances. But not much else. At least not in my neck of the woods.
I figured hugs and kisses were for Europeans.
While studying in Copenhagen, though, I honestly don’t recall if the Danes did much outside of verbal greetings. But then again, I was a little distracted by the leather pants phenomenon that swept northern Europe in the 1990s.
My baptism into personal-space-invasion hellos came when I moved to Florida and met “the crazy Germans.” They were actually a group of partying Austrian and German neighbors and whenever I saw them, the socialite ring leader would swoop down (she was 6’3) and give me a hug and cheek-to-cheek kiss. “Mwah.”
It felt a little odd, but it was her deal so I went with it.
Then I realized it was a fad catching on with some of my clubbing friends.
Soon I didn’t know where to draw the line. Who was a kisser, who was a hugger, who stood back like a cold fish looking at you with crazy eyes if you stepped in too close?
Nothing more awkward than a non-hugger getting bear-armed.
Turns out, it’s not just a European thing.
I spent some time in New Zealand to interview a group of Armenians for a project I was working on.
They were welcoming and friendly. The work was fascinating.
But etched in my brain was the time they laughed at me when I bumped noses with and stared wide-eyed at the “elders” as I tried to back away from the hello kiss. Apparently, Armenians aren’t satisfied with one kiss on the cheek.
They need three. Alternating cheeks. Right-left-right? Left-right-left? I can’t remember. I just recall them all smiling, proudly saying: “We Armenians kiss three times.”
Years later, when I met Dominique’s Swiss parents, I figured the kiss was coming. But on our first visit I was nervous and my old habits came pouring out. I stiffly, quickly stuck out my hand for a hearty shake. But that didn’t do for the goodbye. I leaned in for what I thought was the standard European kiss on the cheek. Once again, I found myself fumbling around some strangers’ faces.
The Swiss kiss three times, too.
(Thanks for the warning, babe.)
I’ve been in Bern for 10 months, now, so I know the three kisses are coming. It’s no surprise. I’ve got this. I’m so Swiss.
Except now I’ve been getting out of the house more and the people I see are a mix of expats and locals. Men and women. All with their own hello / goodbye protocols.
Just last week, in three separate instances, the kiss tripped me up. I went in for the triple kiss with a one-cheek-only friend, one woman saw my hesitation and announced “we’ll do it the Swiss way” just to set me at ease, and a goodbye wave to a fellow American turned into a Swiss kiss adieu after the back-and-forth dance went on a little too long.
So I’d say, if you’re traveling, learn a little about the local greetings. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself in some close-quarters confusion. And if you stop by Switzerland, lean in for the long haul. The Swiss love their three kisses.