Of all social faux pas, getting a greeting wrong and accidentally kissing someone you shouldn't is one of the most embarrassing. The social kiss, of two brief kisses to the cheeks, is not traditional among many people in the U.S., unless they were raised in cultures that engaged in the social kiss. People who did not grow up with it can feel confused as to when and whom to kiss -- if at all.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Easy
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Know that a social kiss is not a romantic kiss. It falls somewhere between touching your cheek to someone else's cheek and planting a smacker on her cheek. Either of these extremes are socially unacceptable. If you initiate the kiss, then your lips might gently touch her skin but because your heads are at angles, hers might not physically touch yours.
Evaluate the situation by looking at the person from a distance first before deciding if a social kiss is appropriate. In business situations, you should assume the default position is to shake hands and simply react to a kiss if the other person initiates it. In all situations, a man can shake hands with another man. A woman can kiss another woman or another man, but kisses are most common between friends. In the U.S., kisses in business situations are rare.
Approach the other person with a smile, and hold your hand out if you are unsure whether to kiss. This gives the other person the option to kiss or shake hands. If you are sure you want to kiss her, hold out your arms in a welcoming gesture and walk into her personal space, placing one or both of your hands gently on her arms or shoulder and saying, Hello.
Aim to kiss the other person's right cheek. Some countries aim for the other side of the face so you may bump noses. If this happens, simply laugh it off.
Kiss once on the right cheek and again on the left cheek unless the person pulls away. If there is confusion as to whether you both should kiss twice, the etiquette company Debrett's, advises you to go in for a second kiss and laughing off the confusion. This double kiss is used in diplomatic circles, as one kiss can seem perfunctory.
Look for signals the other person will kiss more than twice, especially if he is foreign. For example, some French people kiss four times, alternating cheeks each time. The Polish variant of this is to kiss three times: each cheek once, and the right cheek the second time.
Pull back after the kisses have ended and give the other person some space.
Tips and warnings
- Watch others in the group and take cues from their actions. Do not be the only person who shakes hands in a group that kissed each other, as this can be bad manners.
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