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Welcome Meddleheads, to the advice column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions. You can use this form, or send them via email. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.
What is the protocol for hello and goodbye kissing between friends? I am a cheek kisser — I do it almost without thinking about it — a hug and a little peck on the cheek. Some of my friends are lip-kissers; they’ll peck me and my husband hello or goodbye. It's not a question I have thought much about until recently, when a friend of mine (female) caused a veritable scandal upon leaving a party after kissing another friend (male) goodbye — on the mouth.
The kiss-ee's wife went wild in my friend's wake, declaring her intention to call the offending lip-smacker to find out if she kisses everyone’s husbands on the mouth. This particular woman has a history of jealous outbursts, it must be noted, and I've always found her nuts. But still, it caused me to wonder: Is the peck on the lips (and that's what my friend’s was) out of bounds? Should it be avoided? Or should we all spend more time in France and LIGHTEN UP?
Tight-lipped until further notice
We should definitely all spend more time in France and LIGHTEN UP. In fact, this advice obtains for pretty much every Heavy Meddle column I’ve ever written. The problem (and it really is a problem these days) is that you’ll eventually have to return to America and deal with these questions of kissing etiquette.
And naturally, this being America, there is no consensus on what’s appropriate. Where most European and Latin American countries have an established protocol, we’re all over the place. This means, technically, there’s no “wrong way.” But also no “right way.” It’s really a matter of context.
I will say that most cultures steer away from lip-kissing, preferring the cheek. But that doesn’t mean that your friend was in the wrong. So far as I can see, how we choose to greet friends, or bid them farewell, is one of those little micro-interactions that should be governed by the mutual consent of the participants, not the vagaries of the prevailing social or cultural mores. In other words: you have to vibe it out.
She’s prone to jealousy and saw this peck as lingual over-reach, if you will. That’s ultimately a trust issue within that marriage.
For example, I tend to hug female friends when I greet them. But one of our good friends is from Spain and she prefers to give and receive two quick kisses on the cheek. It’s not an erotic experience. But it is a different way of saying hello and goodbye, and it’s what she’s used to and feels comfortable with, and I like it too. I would never try to initiate this custom with American female friends of mine, because it’s just not what we’ve agreed to do.
In the situation you’re describing, it’s not the actions of the two actual kissers that’s at issue—both of them seem to have been okay with the peck—but a third party, the wife. She’s prone to jealousy and saw this peck as lingual over-reach, if you will. That’s ultimately a trust issue within that marriage. So let’s add a corollary to the “mutual consent of the two parties” rule: Whatever social kissing you engage in should be okay with your partner, too.
But overall, Americans would do well to take a few cues from the Europeans and South Americans, who treat social kissing as a small ritual of kindness, more friendly than intimate and ultimately harmless.
Okay, fellow American neurotics — your turn to weigh in. Tell us how you approach social kissing, and in particular, if this friend erred in choosing lip over cheek. Also: please send along a letter to Heavy Meddle, if you haven't. You can use this form, or send your questions via email. — S.A.
Heavy Meddle with Steve Almond is Cognoscenti's advice column. Read more here.