Although cheek kissing often occurs between romantic partners, it may be exchanged by friends, business partners or even people meeting for the first time. Cheek kissing can mean love or friendship; or, like a handshake or bow, it can be a sign of respect or negotiation. Culture and circumstances play a big role in determining what the gesture means.
Cheek Kissing between Lovers
A kiss in a romantic relationship is an acceptable display of affection in most parts of the world, even in public. A kiss on the cheek is generally seen as a sign of romance between two people without seeming inconsiderate or gratuitous in public.
Cheek Kissing Between Friends
Kissing on the cheek between friends is most common between friends and family members and usually signifies a close trusting without necessarily implying romantic involvement. In most of Europe, Latin America and in the Middle East, kissing on the cheek was and still is a common greeting between friends or even between those meeting for the first time. However, in most of Europe it has become less common for men to kiss one another than it once was.
In most of North America, a single kiss on the cheek is appropriate between friends, but even this is mostly an urban phenomenon. In Spain, Austria, Sweden or Britain, it's more usual for both cheeks to be kissed. Three kisses are the convention in much of eastern Europe; in France, as many as four can be appropriate. In the Middle East, it's normal for men to kiss one another on the lips or on the cheek.
Where Kissing is Unacceptable
Cheek kissing is a common greeting all over the world, but it is often unacceptable to kiss in public in any circumstance. In most Asian countries, it's unusual to exchange kisses on the cheek. Similarly, Germany stands out in Europe in that it is also frowned upon. And it's highly inappropriate, even illegal, in much of the Middle East for a man and a woman to kiss in public, even on the cheek.