Nav­i­gat­ing the peck­ing or­der

Greet­ing some­one has be­come some­thing of a so­cial mine­field. Vic­to­ria Marston tack­les the ques­tion on ev­ery­body’s lips: to kiss or not to kiss?

Country Life Every Week - - Athena -

AKISS on the hand may be quite Con­ti­nen­tal, but what of a kiss on a cheek? Or even—mon dieu!—mul­ti­ple kisses? What started as the pre­serve of the French, artis­tic types and the lovies among us has swept our na­tion and left us all in a state of con­fu­sion and so­cial awk­ward­ness. Just how are we sup­posed to greet one an­other th­ese days?

‘A kiss may ruin a hu­man life,’ said Os­car Wilde. A lit­tle dra­matic for our pur­poses, per­haps, but a miss-kiss can def­i­nitely cause a shaky start to a meet­ing. The crux of the is­sue is, cer­tainly, un­cer­tainty.

First and fore­most on this list of un­cer­tain­ties is the ba­sic dilemma of whether or not we should kiss the in­di­vid­ual be­fore us at all—wouldn’t a hand­shake be more cor­rect? De­bret­tõs at­tempts to shed some light on the sit­u­a­tion thus: ‘As a gen­eral rule, don’t kiss peo­ple you don’t know. Don’t kiss col­leagues. Do kiss close friends and dates. The key is to make your ac­tions clear to avoid em­bar­rass­ing con­fu­sion.’

How­ever, it goes on to muddy the waters by ex­plain­ing that this ‘gen­eral rule’ is de­pen­dent upon mul­ti­ple vari­ables: ‘sit­u­a­tion, age, back­ground, pro­fes­sion and your re­la­tion­ship’. Thus, whereas it’s prob­a­bly not the done thing to dive for the cheek of your boss or bank man­ager, you might well wish to be­stow a peck on a school­friend or your in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tor—as pre­vi­ously men­tioned, artis­tic types are, as a gen­eral rule, more likely to in­dulge in the bise.

This de­ci­sion is merely the first hur­dle. Once com­mit­ted to a kiss, which cheek should one aim for? The widely ac­cepted wis­dom is that you should aim for the right cheek, there­fore you head left, but it would ap­pear that not ev­ery­one got this memo and you should be pre­pared to ‘change di­rec­tion at the last minute’.

More of­ten than not, this lack of co-or­di­na­tion will re­sult in, at best, a clash­ing of noses or, at worst— depend­ing on your feel­ings for the re­cip­i­ent—a clash­ing of lips. Should the worst hap­pen, there is re­ally lit­tle to be done other than to laugh awk­wardly and move onto the next item of busi­ness.

If you man­age to nav­i­gate your choice of cheek suc­cess­fully, bravo— but you’re not home safely quite yet. Next on the list of un­cer­tain­ties

‘Just how are we sup­posed to greet one an­other th­ese days?’

is whether one kiss suf­fices— or should we go in for a sec­ond? (The Bri­tish, quite frankly, shouldn’t even con­sider a third or fourth—we just can’t pull it off.) Gen­er­ally speak­ing, if you’ve kissed them once, you’ll prob­a­bly be ex­pected to do so twice —in for a penny, in for a pound.

Con­versely, a sin­gle kiss can ac­tu­ally be taken as a sig­ni­fier of a deeper re­la­tion­ship—some­thing to con­sider if you don’t wish to start the ru­mour mill turn­ing.

Th­ese main hur­dles be­ing safely cleared, there are other, lesser fac­tors that none­the­less war­rant con­sid­er­a­tion. Should your lips make con­tact with their cheek? (Yes—air kisses are false—but only lightly as saliva is un­pleas­ant.) Should you make a sound? (No, mwahs are deeply dis­taste­ful— un­less you’re ac­tively mock­ing peo­ple that faire la bise and the re­cip­i­ent is in on the mock­ery.)

Ul­ti­mately, the whole is­sue boils down to one of sin­cer­ity—or lack thereof. Hav­ing grown up in a dis- tinctly Bri­tish and suit­ably non­tac­tile fam­ily, then spent a year liv­ing

en France, I feel com­fort­able in as­sert­ing that the rea­son our Gal­lic cousins pull off the em­brace with so much more panache than we ever could is that when they kiss some­one, they mean it—we just aren’t good at demon­strat­ing af­fec­tion.

I still re­mem­ber my fa­ther find­ing me pros­trate and sob­bing on my bed as a heart­bro­ken teen. ‘There there,’ he said, pat­ting me awk­wardly on the back. ‘Would you like some gin?’

But in France, Italy, Spain or any­where Euro­pean that isn’t Eng­land, a group of young men will en­thu­si­as­ti­cally em­brace one an­other with gen­uine warmth and not a hint of dis­com­fort. When we at­tempt it, we lack con­vic­tion—and it’s pal­pa­ble.

We’re of­ten keen to adopt ex­otic cus­toms at the ex­pense of our own, but will we al­low the great Bri­tish hand­shake to die, in or­der to carry out rit­u­als that go against our very na­ture? I, slightly aloof-seem­ing Bri­ton that I am, will al­ways be an ad­vo­cate of the hand­shake. Prof­fer your hand, grasp theirs and mean it, shak­ing with all the en­thu­si­asm that your great Bri­tish re­serve can muster— so much more pleas­ant than a ten­ta­tive and half-hearted em­brace.

De­brett’s of­fers a fi­nal word of warn­ing: ‘If you’d pre­fer to shake hands, be sure to hold yours out be­fore any kiss­ing ma­noeu­vres be­gin but, if you’re part of a group in­tro­duc­tion, don’t be the only non-kisser at the party.’ And thus, the waters are mud­died once again.

‘A sin­gle kiss can be taken as a sig­ni­fier of a deeper re­la­tion­ship’

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