Social Kissing, Vol. 6, Issue 18

Dear Etiquetteer:

I was taught that when social greeting includes kisses, one starts right to right cheek, not brushing skin, and makes a soft kissy sound or perhaps murmurs something about being delighted. Should the kiss fest continue, both participants then kissed left, and if again, then right to right. This rule as I learned it pertained to any combination of sexes.

At times, the traffic jam can be a bit distressing and can injure maquillage or nose. So, upon what side does the kissing properly commence and how many times are appropriate for whom?

Your response is eagerly anticipated.Dear Blunderbussing:

You have certainly touched on a thorny issue, one in which it’s easy to hurt someone’s feelings, makeup, or nose job. And Etiquetteer knows, having damaged them all at one time or another.

Social kissing, especially for acquaintances, should not involve mouth-to-mouth interaction. You correctly identify the right cheek as the Perfectly Proper place for each person to start. Not everyone is ambidextrous, however (cheekbidextrous?), and it helps not to commit yourself to leaning in too quickly. On the other hand, if you see someone aiming for your lips and you don’t want to get that close to them, most people already know quite well to turn one’s cheek to them.

Errant lip prints lead to misunderstanding, especially between married couples. Ladies with lipstick especially should adopt the "air kiss," when the lips come close to, but don’t touch, the cheek. Indeed, Etiquetteer remembers walking by an Orthodox Church years ago and being tickled by a sign in the doorway that read "Ladies With Lipstick Please Do Not Venerate Icons."

It’s always important to emphasize that social kissing is most Perfectly Proper with dry lips. Those who don’t "air kiss" often forget that no one wants a slug’s trail on their cheek after an Introductory Osculation. And gentlemen most certainly don’t want a big smack of flavored lip gloss on their cheek.

Gentlemen show respect to ladies by not forcing their attentions upon them. Really we all ought to take a lesson from the Viennese, who have developed the handkuss since the end of the 16th century. There it is understood that one does not kiss a lady (or her hand) unless she first offers it. Enthusiastic gentlemen (like That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much) would do well to remember this and not get caught up in the excitement of the moment. Indeed, That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much got himself into quite a bind once by practically lunging at a Female Acquaintance Old Enough to Be His Mother. Mere millimeters away from Epidermal Contact, the lady cried, "Don’t kiss me! I have a cold!" His embarrassment was exceeded only by his inability to stop in time . . . which of course led to sniffles four days later. Gentlemen, let this be a lesson to you.

Another big don’t, having mentioned the handkuss, is that True Gentlemen never behave like Cartoon French Lovers and make those little mwah sounds while kissing up someone’s arm from hand to neck.

Americans seem to kiss only once, as a rule. The French, and those in the arts (dancers, especially, and Those Who Love Them), no matter their nationality, kiss at least twice, once on each cheek. Italians, on the other hand (as explained to Etiquetteer by an Italian-American balletomane) kiss three times in rapid succession, right-left-right.

So, happy kissing! Etiquetteer hopes that you now have enough ammunition to preserve your maquillage, your dignity, and your good humor. Just don’t forget to carry a handkerchief with you in case you have to blot up a mess.

Today is Mother's Day, and Etiquetteer would like to offer deepest sympathy to the family of Peg O'Dowd, who died yesterday after a long illness. One of the brassier proponents of Perfect Propriety, "The Glamorous Peg" had a real knack for the Warm Welcome and for Telling It Like It Is While Remaining a True Lady. Those of us who eagerly anticipated her visits will miss her.


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Mother’s Day, Vol. 5, Issue 18

Baby Etiquetteer with Dear Mother, 1964

 Etiquetteer came to a much better understanding of his own dear mother when chancing upon Miss Behavior: Popularity, Poise and Personality for the Teenage Girl. This peppy little volume, alternating between wisdom and naivete while attempting to sound "hep," was published right around the time Etiquetteer’s dear mother graduated from high school. Let’s just say it was after the war . . . and no, Etiquetteer does not mean the War of Northern Aggression!Miss Behavior takes us back to a time when teenage girls made their own clothes and wore suits to school, when fathers worked outside the home and mothers kept it, and when people of all ages still listened to the same music. This was a time before Elvis Presley and rock music, and LONG before fashions like extreme body piercings, tattoos, and "grunge" would ever have been permitted in the middle class. This was a time, in other words, when teenagers were expected to behave like adults.Indeed, the idea of being "respectable" was even more important thanappearing respectable, but both clearly went hand in hand. Wholesomeness was seen not only as desirable in itself, but also as attractive to boys . . . and of course nothing could be more important than that! Today’s role models like Lady Guy Ritchie and Mrs. Kevin Federline just don’t project wholesomeness. And indeed, with slang like "ho" and "beeyatch" making their way into white middle-class culture, one can only wonder when being respectable will again be fashionable.Hilarious anecdotes illustrate these points. One teenage femme fatale from the Big City visits rural relatives complete with off-the-shoulder lounge pajamas and foot-long cigarette holder. All that put-on sophistication loses her a date with the star quarterback from her own high school, visiting her cousin’s boyfriend that same weekend! Another girl, a forward flirt, gets saved from date rape by the "warden of the woods" after her date drives her into a local forest. Of course the situation is all her own fault for not behaving herself in the first place . . .Girls were exhorted to bypass bottled shampoos with harmful chemicals in favor of grated Castile soap melted over the stove in a saucepan, or warm olive oil to get rid of dandruff. Girls were to spend every Saturday morning going over their wardrobes and mending underwear, darning stockings, and replacing buttons. Spending time every night in a quiet space for homework was essential. And of course one must save time for eight hours of restful sleep! Now that teenage girls are getting their tongues pierced and having babies out of wedlock, wouldn’t you agree this seems quaint?Into this atmosphere Etiquetteer’s dear mother came of age, and she exemplifies all its best qualities. Mother is a mistress of the bread-and-butter letter, a talented seamstress, and superior cook, and a welcoming hostess. Throughout her history – Vietnam, Watergate, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, September 11, and the rise of hoydens like Courtney Love – Mother has retained her wholesomeness, her integrity, her belief that the world is and can continue to be a good place. What better qualities could a mother need today?

Etiquetteer and Dear Mother, Mother's Day, 2006

 And speaking of the kind of advice only a mother can give: Dear Etiquetteer: My most recent etiquette challenge was sitting outside on the benches in front of a college student center and noticing a young lady who was wearing wide-legged shorts. Her knees were folded up towards her chest and she was giving more of a view than she realized. I did not want to know that she was not wearing underwear and since my companion was male I did not mention it to anyone at the time. In what circumstances and how could I have told her what was happening? Dear Viewing:This is the first time Etiquetteer has ever heard about this particular problem with a female; Etiquetteer thought only men "went commando!" Now do you all know why your mothers told you not to leave the house without clean underwear on?Once upon a time, before ladies wore shorts at all, if a lady saw another lady's slip showing she'd discreetly whisper to her "It's snowing down south." Etiquetteer can only imagine what the equivalent could be in THIS situation; reader suggestions are welcome! You were discreet and wise not to mention anything to this unwitting exhibitionist in front of your male friend, especially since she was a total stranger to you. Had you been on your own, however, you might have approached her quietly and said "Excuse me, you'd probably better put your knees down. You don't realize how much people can see." Etiquetteer thinks these sorts of things are best left between ladies.

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