Last week, an acquaintance from Italy was visiting my office. I have met Gianni through work functions many times over the course of 9 years. Whenever I see him, he greets me in the same manner – Oh Bella, it’s been too long – he says in his broken English and then proceeds to give me the Italian double kiss or a kiss on both cheeks. I know his intentions are harmless, but no matter how many times this happens, it still catches me by surprise. When I saw Gianni last week, it was actually the first time I had seen him in my office setting, so his actions took me even more by surprise. A man, clearly old enough to be my father, and who I hardly know, sees it as second nature to greet me in such a personal manner – a custom that I am definitely not used to. Oddly enough, when I did a little research, I found that, in Italy, greetings with a kiss are actually reserved for close friends and family. Now I’m even more confused!
Italians are not the only ones who indulge in this more intimate greeting of the double kiss, it’s actually popular all over Europe. Now, I’m not the type to kiss and tell, but in this case, I will make an exception….
European Greetings: Sealed With A Kiss
The Netherlands The Dutch prefer the triple kiss – one that begins and ends on the right cheek. This is such a part of culture that the triple kiss is actually expected. But, lookout – when greeting the elderly or a close family member you are quite likely to get a few more!
Belgium The Belgians have a few rules when it comes to the number of kisses. If a person is the same age as you, one kiss is appropriate. But for someone 10 years older or more, it is a sign of respect to give three kisses, similar to the Dutch. If you’re not sure of someone’s age, I recommended going with one kiss – it’s better to error on the younger side – especially if the person you’re kissing is woman!
Spain, Austria and Scandinavia In all three countries, the two or double kiss rule applies. I saw this quite a bit in Spain, even among men. Also, in Spain, it’s custom to always start with the right cheek. Remember this in order to avoid an embarrassing collision.
Germany Germans tend to kiss only family and very close friends. All business and very little pleasure, handshakes are much more common and are considered the norm.
France The French have the most confusing customs when it comes to kissing because who you kiss and how many times you kiss him/her actually depends on what part of the country you are from. According to The Times, in Paris and central France, most people give two kisses – one on each cheek. But a large portion of northern France, from Normandy to the Belgian border, opt for four. And, in southeastern France, from Marseilles to the Alps, the preference is three. What happens when a Norman greets a Parisian. I’m not quite sure, but I’d love to find out!
If you’re ever unsure of how to greet a new or even old acquaintance while in Europe, watch what the locals do, ie. when in Rome… If all else fails, take your cues from your acquaintance, he/she may automatically lead when it comes to this kissing dance, then feel free to oblige.
Kiss, Kiss, Ciao!