Travel Etiquette: The Kiss Greeting Dilemma

While I’m still thinking about the subject of national identities, I’d also like to take one post to express my frustration with the whole “kiss greeting” dilemma in which I often find myself.  For me the dilemma stems from the fact that I’m American and we are accustomed to the traditional handshake or a non-invasive hug.  I also get really stressed out when I feel awkward in a social situation.  So when I first moved to Amsterdam, I was completely confused by the not two, but three kisses on the cheek when you greet someone in a social situation.  Added to that confusion is the fact that Amsterdam is a city full of expats from all over the world with their own version of the “kiss greeting”.

Scoping The Problem

Whatever happened to the simple hug?

For me, the confusion behind the “kiss greeting” has led to a few awkward occasions with my favorite being the one with my Aussie friend, Jas.  We met in Amsterdam after a mutual friend in London e-mailed me and told me I should meet his friend that was moving to the city because in his words, “you’re both boozy.”   I loved that of all the adjectives he could have come up with, boozy made the final cut.  I met Jas in Damplein before a Guy Fawkes Day celebration, and as a trained Dutch person by this point, I didn’t even have to think about the whole “3 kisses” deal.  However, little did I know was that Australians prefer the “one kiss and a hug” technique.  Thus, when I moved into position for the second kiss, I had that awkward, almost kissed her on the lips moment and thought, “Great! Less than five seconds and I’ve given her reason to think I’m a weirdo.”  However, since Australians are generally awesome, no awkwardness ensued.

Identifying Solutions

Determined to not let this happen again, I began thinking of strategies and techniques I could use to ascertain the optimal “kiss greeting” experience with strangers.  At first I came up with this technique where I would kiss them once and then back away enough so that if they kissed again, they would have to come to me.  If they didn’t, then there would not be that awkward lip bump.  Obviously, this was a ridiculous idea and didn’t work at all.  Either I would forget to back away, or I would and it backfired in some way.  I still haven’t actually bothered to search the Internet for some guide that explains what each nationality would do to you upon meeting socially.  I’m sure there has to be something out there to guide the socially awkward contingent of the population to having better greeting experiences.

Accepting Defeat

When I temporarily moved back to the U.S. at the end of 2011, I still had issues because by this time, I wanted to kiss everyone and obviously none of my American friends were having it.  Fast forward to the beginning of 2012 and I find myself in Latin America, which I’m finding is the land of “one kiss on the cheek.”  Of course I forgot about this though and tried to go a second round with my couchsurfing host.  She laughed and I explained, “Oh well ya know, I’m European and all after living there for 3 years and I’m just so used to two times.”  And so the awkward train keeps on rolling.  I should give up now and start boycotting greetings because it obviously stresses me out enough to write about it.


8 thoughts on “Travel Etiquette: The Kiss Greeting Dilemma

  1. Man, the initial greeting when you are unsure of what to do can be brutal! And then once you get into the grove of things, something will happen to make you question the validity of the whole process. Alas!

  2. A great post on an issue that has troubled me for years. I’ve been to 40 or so countries in my travels and every single one seems to have a slightly different greeting ritual. To kiss or shake or hug…. that is the question. Someone really should write a guide.

  3. The book “The Undutchables” suggests that there is such a thing as a “zoenbutton” (Kiss button), which is basically a little badge worn to indicate the number of kisses you give/expect, so you can have 1x, 2x, 3x etc. Always thought it was a great idea but disappointed never to have seen one in real life…

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