A Kiss for Every Taste

A guide to the greeting that’s better than a handshake
A Kiss for Every Taste

Illustration Paul Ryding

If there’s one thing that can be disconcerting when you’re traveling around Latin America, it’s the custom of greeting people with a kiss. Really, is there anything more uncomfortable than kissing a total stranger?

That’s what a lot of Argentines do, finding it perfectly acceptable to plant one or even two kisses on the cheek of someone who they’ve just met. Going cheek to cheek is increasingly common between Argentine men, even if they’ve never laid eyes on each other before.

On the other side of the Andes, in Chile, a kiss on the cheek is also customary – but beware, only one, and only between women. Chilean men shake hands, but if they are already friends, first comes the handshake and then a hug. Nice.

The social mores of other cultures are a minefield of possible embarrassments. But they are also a constant source of fascination.

Just like their Argentine neighbors, the Brazilians favor the kiss, and that’s when the art becomes a science, because those from Sao Paulo give each other one kiss, natives of Rio go for two, and a lot of residents of Minas Gerais and Santa Catarina up the ante to three kisses.

Since the chance of fumbling is high, I’d suggest limiting the proceedings to an air kiss, delivered while exclaiming, “Oi, todo bom?”

Kissing sounds have their maximum expression in Venezuela, where the rule is just one kiss and only between females. The Venezuelans always kiss with onomatopoeia: “Muuuah!” It’s more picturesque than in Mexico, where the habit of shaking hands lives on, although giving a kiss in greeting is common between women.

To my horror, the kiss in social and even professional situations has gained popularity in the United States. The trend could gain speed with the knowledge that, according to the Scientific Forum on Domestic Hygiene (and I swear such a thing exists), a kiss on the cheek transmits far less germs than a mere handshake.

In any case, my preferred greeting is something that globalization has not standardized and that remains the norm in Japan, Korea and other Asian countries.

The bow, that form of acknowledging others without invading their personal space, should be universally adopted in its varied forms, from the casual nod of the head you’d use to greet a neighbor, to the dramatic 70-degree bow called for when received by an emperor, to the 45-degree bend that would be reserved for your mother-in-law.

Not having to give your mother-in-law one, two or three kisses? Now that’s what I call evolution.