20 Kinds of Kisses
Some cultures—including England and America, until relatively recently— do not have a tradition of social kissing. In these societies, handshakes and sometimes hugs are the most common greetings.
But many other cultures have been kissing in greeting for hundreds of years, and have evolved particular habits. Most fall under the ancient Roman category of osculum
, or a kiss on the cheek. (Those classification- happy Romans also delineated basium
as a kiss on the lips and savolium
as a “deep kiss.”)
Unlike the other types of kisses (some historians specify 20 kinds of kisses, but they refer to purpose, not physicality), the kiss on the cheek is usually given in friendship, greeting, comfort, or respect. In France, the tradition is known as faire la bise
and generally refers to a kiss on each cheek. However, the number of kisses given varies widely according to region in France—and it also varies in other countries. In Brazil two kisses are standard, but a third might be offered for “luck” if the recipient is unmarried. One of the most entrenched traditions is in the Netherlands, where kisses of greeting between friends and relatives always number three. Women kiss both males and females three times in succession, but men generally reciprocate only with women. With other men, they con- fine physical greetings to a handshake. Although the three kisses can look like an awkward head-bobbing dance, it is terribly impolite to refuse.
Why? “It’s a Dutch thing,” is the answer.
But wait! Kissing three times on alternating cheeks is also traditional in Egypt, Russia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro. Hmmm. Maybe not such a “Dutch thing” after all.
Excerpted from An Uncommon History of Common Courtesy by Bethanne Patrick. Copyright © 2011 by Bethanne Patrick. Excerpted by permission of National Geographic, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.