One of my favourite things about being part of this vast expat community is that you could meet someone from anywhere else in the world. Chances are if you strike up a casual conversation with a few people over the week you’ll meet someone from a different country each time and, they in turn, have probably also lived abroad in a few different countries themselves.
This makes for great conversations and a lot of destinations for you to add to your vacation bucket list but it makes for some very awkward greetings.
Coming from Canada I’m accustomed to three types of greetings: hugs, handshakes, and casual nodding. Hugs are for family and friends; people you have known for a while and feel totally comfortable smooshing chests with in a heartfelt hello and goodbye. I've got this greeting down and insist upon it regardless of whether the receiver has full comfort with it or not - but they usually do, I'm beyond huggable!
Handshakes are reserved for those who I’m meeting for the first time or I’m meeting for business. I make sure to always shake hands firmly as I was once told by my sociology teacher that women with assertive handshakes are more respected. Also who wants to shake a limp hand? No one I’ll tell you!
And lastly, the casual nod is for all those people in between - the people who I’ve already met but am not on hugging terms with yet. Those who haven't moved fully into squish chest territory but also can’t be greeted with a second assertive handshake, because that would be weird.
I’ve grown up knowing and practicing these 3 greetings. I know them well, I rely on them. And then I started living in China. Having friends from all over the world meaning having to learn and master new forms of greeting.
Right away I was introduced to the kiss cheek. The kiss cheek must never be confused with the kiss ON the cheek; that is a fine line that you can unfortunately never come back from. The line where your "Hello friend!" just turned into “OMG DID I? MAYBE SHE DIDN’T NOTICE!? *awkward silence*”. The kiss cheek is executed by either pressing cheeks and kissing to the side of the other person’s face, or not actually making cheek contact but still kissing in their general ear direction. It’s hard to tell whether you should actually make cheek to cheek contact but I feel like if I go 45% and then they make up the last 55% for the cheek press that I’m in the clear. Typically my UK friends are the ones that do this the most. I’m totally down with it until I get that ONE person who insists on going the wrong way for the initial kiss cheek. So then you end up doing this awkward almost make out or accidental full on lip kiss that just makes both parties go “it’s okay! Hahaha!”. However, your inner self isn't laughing, no, it’s hiding in a corner under its embarrassment blanket.
Then there is the single kiss cheek. Now you may think this is the same as the kiss cheek itself but I will tell you it isn't. The single is different because it comes with many chances for ultimate awkwardness. Not only do you have to anticipate what side to do the single kiss cheek on, but you also have to know that it truly is a single and not a double. You don’t want to just go for the two when the other party only intended on the one. But you also don’t want to go in for one and pull out too early leading to your friend going “no no! I’m from (insert country here) we do it twice”. The WORST is when you dance around the first kiss cheek, figure that out, then go in for the second but get rejected. #dyinginside
Today I pulled out the double kiss cheek out of my greeting arsenal to say goodbye to my friends at lunch. I was told I was “very European” which I’m sure means my kiss cheek etiquette is getting quite confident.
But let’s just make a deal: if you intend to kiss cheek me three times I”m going to need that in writing so I’m aptly prepared.