Hand-kissing etiquette
November 22, 2017 11:56 AM   Subscribe

I'm wondering about the acceptability and frequency of hand-kissing by strangers. I was recently at a friend's casual gathering and was introduced to several persons, and kissed on the hand by one of them, as a farewell. Is this a popular or trendy thing to do these days, or was just a strange episode? The kisser in question is Western European, so perhaps it is more common there? (Although he didn't kiss anyone else, which is why it struck me as a bit odd).

A bit more detail: At the end of the gathering, I stood chatting in a circle with a few people. The man the female host has been dating came over to introduce himself, chatted for a couple of minutes, and as the rest of the group said we were leaving, he shook everyone's hand, but when he came to me, he bent on one knee, took my hand, and kissed it. It wasn't a full-on sloppy lip kiss, but kind of like grazing my hand, if that makes sense. It didn't strike me as romantic or sexual, but it also didn't seem particularly goofy as he was straightforward in his goodbye handshakes to everyone else (both men and women). So I found it quite odd, though my husband didn't think much of it. As far as I could tell, the kisser wasn't drunk or otherwise intoxicated. (Note: I am not the Queen of England, a religious figure, or anyone else that might expect/warrant a bow or a kiss).

Apologies if this is too chatfiltery, but I don't see any similar Asks in the archives, and my Google-Fu seems to find only results relating to religious/political contexts of hand-kissing.
posted by stillmoving to Society & Culture (38 answers total)
I'd chalk it up to affectation.
posted by humboldt32 at 12:19 PM on November 22, 2017 [13 favorites]

I'm gonna go with gross an be sexist here. No one kisses anyone's hand in 2017. Could have been a lame and sexist attempt at humour or chivalry, I suppose. But yeah gross.
posted by smoke at 12:20 PM on November 22, 2017 [16 favorites]

I’m going with affectation which is also gross.
posted by Room 641-A at 12:36 PM on November 22, 2017 [13 favorites]

I've been living in Western Europe for the last 6 years. That is not a common way to say goodbye to anyone here. It sounds affected and sort of creepy.

For future reference (because I get the feeling that this guy might try something creepy again and then try to pass it off as "just the way we do things"): people from some European countries habitually "kiss" hello and goodbye, but what that means is people put their cheek next to yours briefly, no lips involved. When a European is in the habit of doing this as a greeting or a goodbye, they will do it to everybody in the room--male and female, young and old--and they will do it every time.
posted by colfax at 12:37 PM on November 22, 2017 [6 favorites]

Based on your recent questions, I am assuming you are in the United States.

There is no good reason in the USA to kiss anyone's hands in a social setting. Even outside the US, that's creepy and it is not a way to say goodbye anywhere in the world that I'm aware of.

It's especially creepy that he singled out you.
posted by saeculorum at 12:38 PM on November 22, 2017 [5 favorites]

Taking a knee puts it well into affectation territory, but it can still be creepy.
posted by rhizome at 12:41 PM on November 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Miss Manners says that the proper hand kiss is actually above the hand, not on the hand. So it sounds like this person is playing with etiquette he doesn't really know. Also, singling you out means he can't just pass it off as something he does with women.

Miss Manners on this:
Q: What should a woman do after she has been kissed on the hand? I am not sure if there is some gesture or response the woman should offer to “complete” the sense of a greeting/acknowledgment.

To respond to this gesture is to allow one’s hand to be approached. (Not actually kissed, because a proper gentleman kisses an inch or two above the hand, and would never attempt to do even that to an unmarried lady.) Miss Manners warns you that this is not as passive or as easy as it sounds. Probably expecting a handshake, the lady will hold her hand stiffly vertical and so must gently rotate it to a horizontal position, allowing him to hold it from underneath while he kisses the air above the back of her hand.
posted by FencingGal at 12:41 PM on November 22, 2017 [6 favorites]

This is affected and weird, bordering on creepy, and if the host didn't see it happen she should be made aware ASAP so she can make a plan for how to DTMFA.
posted by jesourie at 12:48 PM on November 22, 2017 [7 favorites]

If there was no contextual explanation (such as an earlier conversation about Medieval or courtly behavior, or a reference to some movie where hand-kissing featured), agreeing with those calling it affected and creepy.
posted by aught at 12:59 PM on November 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Gross, but maaaaaaaaaybe he was trying to be funny and failed. If he wasn't dating the hostess, I'd default to creepy.
posted by 8603 at 1:11 PM on November 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Creepy affectation. Either trying to flatter you and fascinate you, or trying to imply you're so aloof that not even if he treats you like the Queen of England will you deign to acknowledge him. Gross either way.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 1:41 PM on November 22, 2017

Also you don't kneel to kiss a hand you bend over at the waist. The kneeling makes it weird and also the fact he didn't do it to anyone else including the hostess. It strikes me as an attempt at a little flirting, which may or may not be harmless depending on the rest of your conversations with him that night.
posted by wwax at 1:47 PM on November 22, 2017 [6 favorites]

So he introduced himself, meaning that was the first time you even met the guy and then he KNELT AND KISSED YOUR HAND in front of your husband, who given that he hadn't met you all, he wasn't aware you were with? Super creepy and inappropriate. He was basically hitting on you at his date's party, so humiliating for her too now everyone knows it. And making a big production about it. Eww eww eww. Tell the host so she's aware of it and that you don't appreciate it, so that even if she's ok dating a creep, you're not ok being around it.
posted by Jubey at 1:58 PM on November 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Mhm. my best (male) Friend might do this, after a long night of drinking and talking, to express affection and admiration in a chaste way. But we know each other since 30+ years and irony and jokes are a big part of our friendship. His lips would however not touch the back of my hand but just hover.

Recently also foreign diplomat (Eastern European), whom i had never met before said good bye with a formal central European hand kiss, which does not include bending his knee, only takingmy hand, hovering above it with his lips and bowing his upper body. The setting was extremely formal, i assume he did it to give the most respectful greeting possible. I was somewhat surprised but it was not creepy.

My guess is, the guy you encountered wanted to be funny and in a humorous way pay tribute to you as his date's friend.
posted by 15L06 at 2:03 PM on November 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

Agreed that it's in lame-to-possibly-gross affectation territory. I wouldn't be inclined to bring it up with anybody just because it doesn't seem worth the additional cycles to me (this assumes he didn't make you feel unsafe, degraded, etc), but I'd definitely be ready to pull my hand back with a "yeah, no hand kissing" if you encounter him again.
posted by DingoMutt at 2:06 PM on November 22, 2017

Picture of a Handkuss. Basically Knigge (eqivalent to Ms Manners), says it has to be soundless, no lips on hand.
posted by 15L06 at 2:11 PM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't have considered this creepy, but it's flamboyant and theatrical, especially with kneeling, in a way I find very off-putting.
posted by basalganglia at 2:13 PM on November 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

Okay, seeing that picture 15L06 posted, I'm going to upgrade my "possibly gross" to "yeah, that's gross."
posted by DingoMutt at 2:17 PM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Strikes me as behavior in the Hello, m'lady territory.
posted by velveeta underground at 2:39 PM on November 22, 2017 [10 favorites]

So gross. Super gross and presumptuous considering that he didn't know you, his date was the hostess, he didn't do it to anyone else, and he bent down on his knee. Blergh! Was he wearing a fedora, by any chance.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 2:41 PM on November 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=4E-3go8mCXA This video around the 2:45 mark has instructions, aimed at French men, for how to kiss the hand. It's in french but maybe you can change to English CC.
When I saw this last year I was really surprised as I lived in France for 10+ years and never saw this even once, so I assumed it must be a new " trendy" thing in France. Honesty I'm not sure. But it's possible if this man was Western European he might have adopted this affectation as clearly this video was meant as an instructional. ( it's part of a library of how to/ tips/ hacks)
posted by Rapunzel1111 at 2:44 PM on November 22, 2017

Honestly, I've had my hand kissed -- both the proper in-the-air variety and the seductive near-miss warm-breath version -- and liked it, but (a) we were someplace theatrical and (b) no kneeling and (c) there had been some mutual flirting already.

I have ALSO had my hand kissed in creepy ways, n.b. No contact! Probably not even if you're necking with the person in private -- leave it for privacy.
posted by clew at 2:47 PM on November 22, 2017

It's all about context. I was just kissed on the hand the other day, but the person in question kisses the hand of anyone he is genuinely pleased to be meeting or greeting. Also, he is old and spent much of his life in theater. It jolts you at first, but then it's fine.

What you're describing is weird because you are the only person who was singled out for this treatment. In my book, an appropriate kiss to the hand or cheek (in countries where these gestures are not common) will initially be surprising but should not feel uncomfortable or gross.

It's also kind of a red flag that he didn't know you at all, had no idea whether you were the kind of person who would be remotely entertained by this outré behavior, and yet did it anyway. (Boundaries? At MY casual gathering?) I mean, the man I mentioned in my first paragraph hand-kissed me without knowing me well - but we had spoken on the phone and over email before, so it's not as if he didn't know me from Adam.

Bottom line, what's described in the OP is weird as hell.
posted by desert outpost at 3:41 PM on November 22, 2017

Thanks for all of the responses! I'm glad I'm not the only one who found it strange, if not downright creepy! I think my husband just thought the kisser was being a bit eccentric, though that didn't fit with his other behavior that I saw that night.

Follow up question (if I may): would you disclose this episode to the host? If so, what might you say? She is a friend who was eager for us to meet this new chap, so I'm sure she might ask what I thought of him. My inclination is to just say I wasn't a big fan but perhaps it's better to be more direct? While it is weird it's not a level of creepiness that I would flag as dangerous and feel more compelled to report to her.
posted by stillmoving at 4:07 PM on November 22, 2017

would you disclose this episode to the host? If so, what might you say?

I think my answer to that would depend pretty hugely on what you mean by "his other behavior I saw that night".
posted by DingoMutt at 4:11 PM on November 22, 2017

"He seemed nice enough [assuming this is true] but I have to say I was seriously weirded out when he dropped to one knee and kissed my hand. Does he do that kind of thing regularly?"
posted by Lexica at 4:37 PM on November 22, 2017 [14 favorites]

either he is hannibal lecter sniffing your flesh before lending you an opera libretto and then murdering your husband in a manner which resembles the famous murder of a renaissance ancestor or he's just an affected creepy weirdo.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:50 PM on November 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

Ok, so this, minus the singling you out plus the kneeling, is routinely done by people of a certain generation where I come from (Eastern European country). Or younger people when they are in a very formal environment (but not businessy - you'd do it to your prospective mother in law, for example, the first time you meet her). Done 'neutrally', it is absolutely not creepy, but it is frequently unpleasant, since most people don't know how to do it (don't slobber all over my hand, make sure that I am actually extending the hand for a kiss and not a shake - yes, the woman's hand position is different, and make sure you KNOW that I've clean hands before you stick them in your mouth).

Here is how your exact situation might be non-creepy where I come from: if during the evening you two shared at some point a bit of a (platonic) moment, like you had an animated/ humourous exchange or something like this, and you acknowledge each other as worthy conversation partners at the end of the evening, and he does his kneeling spiel in plain view of everybody else. If this came totally out of the blue, like there was nothing you two shared during the evening except for polite blandness, I'd be weirded out and think the guy has no social tact. If he did it while we were alone, I'd think he is a creep and stay away from him.

As to how to bring it up: I'd ask your friend if her boyfriend comes from Eastern Europe, because you heard someone talk about how at least in one country there this is done routinely, but you cannot think of any other place where this would not raise eyebrows. Then she can make of this info what she will.
posted by miorita at 4:55 PM on November 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

She is a friend who was eager for us to meet this new chap,

Any chance at all that she was also talking you, personally, up to him and this is why he may have singled you out?

I see this as more odd or obnoxious than creepy (barring any creep-signals he might have sent your way), but my friends are generally a bit eccentric.
posted by windykites at 5:35 PM on November 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

Singling you out for a hand-kiss is creepy. Dropping to one knee to do it is venturing well into "wft is wrong with you" territory.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:02 PM on November 22, 2017

My husband and I have a lovely long-time friend whom we see a couple of times a year. He kissed my hand once during good-byes. He didn't even have to go down on one knee for me to find it ridiculous and annoying.
posted by wryly at 7:16 PM on November 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'd mince no words with the hostess and wouldn't describe him as nice or anything else complimentary if I didn't really feel he was. He may be a missing stair or simply not clued into American culture, but since she's his friend, she should be the one to tell him that the gesture comes off as creepy and/or weird. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I'd tell the hostess that I had a great time at her gathering but was a bit unsettled by the way her "date' bent on one knee and kissed my hand at the end of the evening, especially when I noticed he didn't do that to anyone else. That tells her all she needs to know. She will set him straight or dump him. Either way he'll be put on notice that you're not interested and hopefully, you won't have to suffer through any other awkward encounters from him in the future.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 10:30 PM on November 22, 2017

Were you the only woman there apart from his gf?
posted by Omnomnom at 11:59 PM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think it's more likely an affectation as well, but just to cover the bases, did you by chance do him/your friend a favour or something that may have (in his mind) warranted the gesture?

My son (at the time, pre-facial hair, he was rather androgynous looking) was once kissed on the hand--well, glove--by a stranger during a snowstorm. Son and a relative were walking back from the Tim Hortons and stopped to help an older gentleman who'd slipped and fallen on the ice. Older gent was effusive in his thanks, and IIRC, there was a bended knee too.
posted by methroach at 9:38 AM on November 23, 2017

Something about this was gnawing at me, and now I realize that this sounds like the kind of extremely awkward, cringe-worthy, and boundary pushing thing Michael Scott on The Office would do.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:16 AM on November 23, 2017

Bleurgh, bring me a bucket as I may vomit.
posted by Coaticass at 11:10 PM on November 23, 2017

I'm from the UK, travel in Europe all the time. In UK and Europe this would not be wildly out of the norm, or very weird/creepy.
Would be more like a daft jokey way of saying "I particularly enjoyed meeting you" that in this case very clearly didn't come across quite right! Agree that Windykites hypothesis could be correct.

Perhaps if people across USA are going to be repulsed and repelled by him doing this you'd be doing him and the hostess a favour by saying something like "He seemed nice enough [assuming this is true] but I have to say I was seriously weirded out when he dropped to one knee and kissed my hand. Does he do that kind of thing regularly?" which Lexica wrote above.
posted by stevedawg at 5:09 AM on November 24, 2017

Considering that he wasn't acting creepy towards you earlier (or even during) it seems like the most generous reading is that he was being a little silly in a non-goofy way, especially if you were the last person to whom he said goodbye. Think about it this way: would you be asking this question if, instead of kissing your hand on bended knee, he had done some sort of baroque "bow and scrape"?
posted by slkinsey at 1:38 PM on November 24, 2017

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