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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