Why do people – strangers – feel they have to kiss you on the cheek, as a greeting? The British, for one, seem to have suddenly decided they will be all Continental about it. Except that their enthusiasm is now exceeding the number of kisses given by the average Continental.
Personally, I have always disliked it. Profoundly.
I like to hug, kiss and cuddle my friends. People with whom I have, over weeks, months or even years, developed a certain emotional and, therefore, physical closeness. When someone with whom I have a strictly business relationship plants a smack on my carefully applied blusher, I find myself in an uncomfortable position. I do not want to make a fuss and step back, for fear of offending the person (and even jeopardising my professional prospects). However, when I give in, I resent the liberty taken. I happen to think it is presumptuous – invasive – especially when they ignore your subtle body language attempts at dodging them.
Interestingly, it is mostly men who appear to have taken on this kissing trend promotional activity. Women show more deference.
Why don’t we just shake hands? I like shaking hands. It maintains the feeling of a professional boundary but also allows me to make a snap decision about my own impression of the other person. Is it a firm handshake? Is it limp? Moist? Crushing? Is the whole hand given or just the fingers? A national style*, however, seems to be the fingers only handshake. No matter how fast I try to catch the proffered hand mid-flight, it escapes me, allowing me only a squeeze of the fingers. Then there are those who are so skilled at the game, they have perfected the art of the top two knuckles shake. What is it with this palm and dorsal shyness?
I am going to get a velcro, hand-trapping, glove.
* * *
Now let us assume you are a friend. In that case, if you are going to kiss, then do it properly.
When my Italian, Spanish, Irish and Basque friends greet or part with me, they kiss me. That is, their lips press into my cheek full on, like a firm cushion. A solid, present, committed kiss. My English friends*, for the most part – no doubt as a sign of immense deference – choose to kiss the air next to my face, instead. In their eagerness to plant their pursed lips on that elusive point in space, they either press their cheek against mine for a nanosecond, or collide with my cheekbone. It leads me to suspect that these people do not really want to kiss me. They just need my cheek as a springboard.
For all our croissants and cappuccinos, we British are not "Continentals". Even our being Europeans is often brought into question. Being tactile does not come naturally to the English*. It does not sit well with centuries of emotional reserve. Until we can find the misplaced keys to the cellar where our emotions have been carefully bottled up, any adventures in the land of cheek pecking (for it sure isn't kissing, yet), will involve nothing but embarrassment, clumsiness, and that very English brand of self-consciousness.
I am going to get a T-shirt which says, Don't kiss me unless you mean it.
Hugs are the physical equivalent of chocolate. Belgian chocolate. With praline. Rich, warming and comforting. The majority of English hugs*, however, fall into the following categories:
The Crustacean Hug: A hard collision between shoulders or collarbones, while the soft and unprotected abdominal areas are kept wide apart. Better keep them safe.
The Tapping Hug: I always wonder why some people feel the need to tap you on the back as soon as they hug you. Are they worried physical contact with them will trigger a coughing fit? Or is the light tap, tap, tap aimed at stopping you from getting too comfortable. There, there. Don't go reading anything into this hug.
The Back Rub Hug: A couple or so single-handed strokes on your back, as though they are brushing off dust. Do they think you are a baby who has just drunk too much milk and needs to have air expelled to avoid hiccups?
I am going to take up a subscription to Italian, Spanish, Irish and Basque kisses, handshakes and hugs.
* Usual exceptions apply. I just wish I could name them.