Cheek kissing as a greeting in the US
October 28, 2019 9:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm in the US, and I've recently had the great luck to meet a new group of friends who are wonderful. This is an a large urban area on the East Coast. Among this group, cheek kissing is a common greeting. It's not common for me, and I feel anxious about it, so I'm bean-plating it. Help this introvert kiss cheeks the right way -- details after the cut.

The way this usually happens is I'll walk into a gathering (party, restaurant, etc.) and be warmly greeted. These are all platonic friends (of mine at least). They are outgoing, artistic, and fashionable. While greeting me, one or more people will turn their head to the side and tap their cheek, indicating I am to kiss said cheek. My problem is, I'm not sure what kind of a kiss I'm being asked for. I assume it's either an air kiss or a dry smack -- but which, and how? An air kiss I can figure out, but if it's a dry smack, I'm unsure whether I should make full contact, or light contact, or whether it should be straight on or at an angle.

I am confident that the kisses I've given so far are fine and that I'm massively overthinking this. But it would help me to feel more comfortable to know that I'm doing this in the "right" way. I'm excited about these new friends and am at a new place in life -- I really want to be more like them. Honestly, I wish we could all just hug instead, but the cheek-kissers tend to be very insistent.
posted by OrangeDisk to Human Relations (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Hm, if they're tapping I think contact is being requested. But you can choose how much based on your comfort level. I often just touch my cheek to theirs instead of my lips if I'm feeling less cuddly about the person. As long as you make the effort I really think you're good. There's a lot of cheek kissing in my larger friend group (Toronto) and the only people's cheeks I actually full on deliberately kiss with my lips are my very dearest. Also the person for whom I have The Feels.
posted by wellred at 9:54 AM on October 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

That’s weird that they’re insistent. It’s certainly common in nyc but not universal. I got used to it and started doing it a certain amount but I also had a friend who said to me the first time we hung out, as we were approaching my subway stop, “I’m not really a huggy person so I’ll just blow you a kiss,” which she did (then and when we hung out subsequently) and which I am reporting because I think also New Yorkers tend to respect individual differences that way and you can probably lay down the law if kissing everyone is going to give you agita.
posted by less of course at 9:56 AM on October 28, 2019 [7 favorites]

New Yorker, slightly weird about social kissing myself in the same kind of way you are. What I do, and god knows I'm not sure I'm ordinary here, but no one's pointed and laughed yet, is sort of cheek-to-cheek contact with a air-kiss -- kissy noise, face contact, but lips not really on face. It seems to work fine.
posted by LizardBreath at 10:12 AM on October 28, 2019 [14 favorites]

Typically, when I do besos with my relatives in Latin America, we touch cheeks such that my lips are either barely or not quite touching the other person's cheekbone, and I give an audible lip smack. I think the appropriate gesture in your case will depend heavily on the culture and temperament of your friends, but this is just one example of how you can go about it.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 10:15 AM on October 28, 2019 [9 favorites]

No specific NE US to experiences to contribute but just wanted to reassure you that even in countries where this is universally accepted it can still get complicated, not least because different regions and countries do it differently. To the extent where I‘ve had conversations around how many kisses do you do in X. So as long as you’re warm and friendly whatever slight hesitation or uncertainty transpires will be fine. If possible try to observe them among each other and take it from there.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:17 AM on October 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

I agree the insistence is a little odd. I know you know this, but you never have to put any part of your body anywhere or on anyone you do not wish to! less of course's suggestion seems about right: just lightly say you're not a big kisser and do jazz hands, or blow a kiss, or whatever jaunty non-tactile greeting you prefer.
posted by blessmycottonsocks at 10:18 AM on October 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

sort of cheek-to-cheek contact with a air-kiss -- kissy noise, face contact, but lips not really on face

This, and sometimes you don’t even fully touch cheeks, just hover your head there. But no kissy noise, just a kissy face. Imagine if both people were wearing dark lipstick—you wouldn’t want to leave any marks behind; so you’re sort of faking a cheek kiss by just putting your mouth on that general direction.
posted by sallybrown at 10:35 AM on October 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

flagged my answer above for deletion--sorry OP didn't see you specifically only wanted advice on handling kissing correctly.
posted by blessmycottonsocks at 10:48 AM on October 28, 2019

I come in confidently and affectionately, big smile and warm greeting, but I ALWAYS do a no-spit bisou: I give a light hug, usually with our torsos NOT touching, turn my face away from theirs, slightly touch my cheek or ear to the other person's cheek or ear, and make a kiss sound into the air.

Here in Toronto, I do the kiss just once with my Italian friends. With European or Quebecois people, I just soften my muscles and pay attention and follow their lead if they want more than one kiss (some people do two, or even three bisous in a single greeting)... that way it easily avoids awkwardness or accidental lip touches.

I turn my head to avoid lips touching me, and I never make lip contact with anyone's lips or cheeks unless it's romantic- I hate that! No smears or zits from lip products, and no gross saliva!

As long as you do the greeting in an affectionate manner, I think it's cool to do it in a way that respects your own saliva / touch boundaries. With me, I am 100% no spit but I don't think anyone ever gets salty or feels weird about it.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 11:00 AM on October 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

The thing that's always hung me up: Which cheek is the correct cheek to do this with (or start with, for those who are multikissers)? Right cheek?
posted by limeonaire at 11:05 AM on October 28, 2019

I put my right side to their right side first. I dunno if it's correct, but it usually seems to work.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 11:06 AM on October 28, 2019

Huh, and I do left to left. I don't know that I had a rationale before just now, but one that makes sense to me is that it's like driving or walking -- you're angling to pass to the right of the other person.
posted by LizardBreath at 11:12 AM on October 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

I start with my left cheek as well.
posted by sallybrown at 11:15 AM on October 28, 2019

I give the cheek. As a person who prefers hand shakes to all other greetings, I feel you.

My husband's family all kiss each other on the lips (dad/sons, cousins, etc. etc.) and I have had to get good at ducking over the years, good luck to you in this situation!
posted by Lawn Beaver at 11:32 AM on October 28, 2019

You start with left because that’s what makes most sense from a right-handed handshake that gets pulled in.

But if someone taps their cheek, you gotta start with that cheek, even if it’s the wrong one.
posted by SaltySalticid at 1:05 PM on October 28, 2019

I'm not sure if the left/right thing is on-topic for this question anyway, but I thought I'd point out that the responses are already showing opposite conventions for what left and right even mean in this context (which was also a cause of confusion in the hugging thread).
posted by aws17576 at 12:38 AM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

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