Two years ago, I moved to Portugal. I moved from a culture where kissing and hugging as a greeting was reserved for family and close friends to one where kissing and hugging are a far more widespread form of greeting. This is further complicated by the fact that my partner is French and that our social circle includes family – English, Portuguese and French, friends – English, Portuguese, French, Danish, German and Dutch and business colleagues and acquaintances which include all of the above plus Spanish and Italians as well. They all have different rules for social greetings!

Social kissing is the quick peck/brush on the cheek used as greeting in most social situations. It is not the “air kiss” accompanied by the “mwah” of the celebrity circuit.

A handshake is still the generally accepted initial greeting on introduction between strangers. However, after introduction, this can all change and in some case this initial step is sidestepped particularly if the person you are being introduced to is already at the “two/three/four kisses stage” with your partner.

In the UK, the handshake still rules outside of family and close friends. A loose hug and a kiss on both cheeks are suitable for friends and as you get to know a person the hug tends to get tighter and last longer.

The Germans and the Scandinavians tend to follow the UK in their greeting habits and tend to reserve their kissing for family and friends.

In France, it is two or four kisses starting with the right cheek depending on which area you live in. In Pau — southern France it is two — in Paris it is four.

In Lisbon and larger cities in Portugal, it is two starting on the left. In this area of Portugal it is four – starting with the left. I think this tends to be because we live in a rural area where everyone knows everyone else or knows someone who does. I found it quite unnerving to start with — especially when I was greeted this way the first time I met my partner’s ex less than a month after my arrival! By the time the dentist greeted me in this manner I was used to it! We are also in a position where most of our business colleagues are friends which means there is always a whole lot of kissing going on. Heaven forbid if you leave anyone out at a family or large gathering – that is akin to an insult.

Just to make things complicated, the Dutch, the Polish and the Swiss go for three, the Dutch and the Polish start on the left – the Swiss on the right.

Serbians also go for three whichever their country of origin – Croatians and Bosnians go for two starting on the right.

The Spaniards go for two from the right and the Italians go for as many as they can get away with!

Confused yet?

If you are uncomfortable with this “over-familiarity” or uncertain about how many, or which side, a broad smile and a firm handshake will forestall any unwarranted kissing action and a possible clash of heads.

33 Comments

  1. Love this article, Nicola, thank you for writing it!

    When I virtually gave you a “kiss” in email for all the great work you’ve done here now that you’re back with us, you asked me what type of kiss I was giving you — and this whole article leapt from that fun conversation! I love that sort of inspiration from the wild.

    I then shared this with you:

    Last night, I told Janna I was going to kiss her four times from now on, and she agreed. Today, when I saw her off on the train, she forgot, and we were a tangle of noses and cheeks! I loved it! I think I actually got in six instead of four!

    Oh, and I’ve similarly offered Gordon virtual kisses in email for all his great deeds here — but I don’t think an article was ever born of it! SMILE!

  2. Yes, I was warned about this, but it did end up in bumping noses. Nicola, when you say start on the right cheek, who starts and who has the point of view for the “right” side? Is it is kisser’s right or the kissee’s right?

    How do three kisses work? Is that on both cheeks and the lips or what?

    1. When you know each other you present the correct cheek automatically – but most of the confusion arises when people do not know the conventions or guess the wrong nationality. The correct thing for a kiss to the right is to lead with the right cheek and present it by slightly turning your face and visa versa for the left.

      Three kisses are cheeks only – so right – left – right ……………… or left- right – left.

      Social kissing avoids the touching of lips and there should also be no lower body contact unless you know the other person very well.and a full body hug is acceptable.

  3. I love it when we take tangents and run with them. Since moving here I have run into a whole new confusing kissing world ……….. with lots of confusion and nose banging like you and Janna ! Six is a good score and far better than a bruised head which can also be an unexpected side effect !

    I should warn you all about at Glassgow kiss – or “glesga kiss” – this is slang for a headbutt !

    1. Harr! I love the Glassgow kiss! I think I will keep trying for six, but I may only get away with three — though, since I have just learned, there is confusion is in the third kiss, that may just be my opportunity to plant at least a fourth!

          1. Well it was alive and well in Spain when I visited there whilst on an exchange visit to a French school and we went on a day trip to Spain back in 1970 – and it was not just me as a teenager that had to endure it , the student I was staying with and her mother got the same treatment !

    1. Ooo, that’s even better. I’ll go for the “Endless Smooch” that will be redacted by the kissee to “One and Done!” SMILE!

      We started the cheek kissing in public as goodbye and hello just because it’s easier and faster and “less gross” to observers pounding all around you at a train station.

  4. Love it! I learned one kiss on each cheek from my parents and virtual kisses seemed normal — hence no articles borne of those! 🙂 Great writing!

    1. I do tend to kiss a lot of things — both people and objects. I have been known to kiss books and iPhones and iPads and pens and notebooks and the mail… and so on… not so much hugging, though… it’s easier to quickly kiss a book than to give one a hug.

  5. Hi Nicola! Compared to this kissing ritual, we Indians are pretty orthodox…. 😀

    When we meet an acquaintance or a stranger, traditionally we press our hands, palms touching and finger pointing upwards and we say “Namaste/ Namaskar” with a slight bow. It’s a non-contact form of salutation. For friends, it’s light to tight hugs.

    And for the significant ones? That’s kind of closed door and not social… 😀

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