Do we kiss once, twice, or just shake hands?
Intercultural greetings can often present confusing introductions. When traveling in Spain the traditional informal greeting is one kiss on each cheek between women-men, women-women, and a firm handshake with perhaps a side hug between men depending on the relationship. In the United States men might exchange a ‘bro hug’, a fist bump, or a standard handshake, while women might exchange a soft hug that involves some back patting. In Mexico it is common for all strangers to shake hands. In Argentina, specifically in Buenos Aires, people have taken the informal greeting to the most up close and personal level. A lively and loud kiss between everyone perhaps followed by a long hug, a few pats on the back, a short upper back/neck rub! This greeting is then usually followed by a quick body scan to see how you’ve been taking care of yourself since your friend has last seen you and a comment about your physical status (depending on the relationship). You might be asking yourself, “Does that mean men kiss men?” You betcha!
Now don’t be alarmed because this affectionate kiss isn’t obligatory for everyone. If you want to avoid any confusion or discomfort, simply stick out your hand and expect a handshake and a warm smile followed by a, “so where are you from?” People in Buenos Aires exchange notoriously friendly greetings that can often include an explicative or two. Imagine being so happy to see a close friend that you cannot help but curse and exclaim, “How the hell are you doing you son of a bitch!”
My first day of work as an English teacher in Buenos Aires was not only filled with new and interesting people, but I also think I kissed over 85 people that day. The first class of 8 students all lined up for a kiss before and after class. It was a bit shocking and overwhelming at first because I felt like my personal space was completely out the window. But I got used to it. If you go to a party or a social situation, when in doubt, just kiss everyone. It doesn’t matter if they’re short, fat, skinny, old, young: kiss everybody you see. You might be thinking, “isn’t this a bit too much?” The answer is no! If you want to be well received socially here, start getting used to kissing.
Does kissing apply to leaving a social situation as well? You’d better believe it. I generally prefer a more caballero or gentleman like approach and kiss all the ladies first. But beware of overly protective boyfriends or husbands.
For those brave enough to greet like the locals, here are some quick tips for Argentine greetings.
– People usually kiss with their right cheek. If you’re a lefty, you’d better act fast and initiate the kiss with the left cheek so as to indicate that you’re a lefty and you’re starting the kiss.
– Don’t be afraid to use a little bit of lip, but not too much. There’s nothing worse than a wet, slobbery smooch that makes you have to turn away and wipe your cheek.
– Upon kissing, exaggerate the kiss with a loud ‘mwah’ sound. You can practice this at your leisure or there are plenty of locals that would love to give free classes.
Written by Brian Athey