When I was a kid, I used to see people – let’s for the sake of argument call them “Europeans” – kissing friends on both cheeks, and think that it was the height of sophistication. After all, I used to just get sloppy kisses on the lips from relatives, rather than the exaggerated ‘mwah’ of a two-sided peck.
Then of course I grew up and realised that it wasn’t just the French who took a two-for-the-price-of-one approach to the greeting smooch – it was most people I knew. While the housing estate I was brought up on maybe wasn’t the natural home of the ‘ambicheekstrous’ approach to the welcoming snog, as soon as I moved to university and then on to London, I was offering up double kissing value with the best of ’em.
Fourteen years on, and it’s suddenly like I’ve stepped back in time. With a new family, a new job and a new city of people to get to know, I’m probably meeting more people since the days of trying to persuade fellow first-year girls at university to join me for a pint of IPA and a packet of cheese’n’onion crisps. But that just means making a whole series of social faux-pas as I network my way around New York.
Obviously regardless of whether I’m meeting a man or woman for the first time, I offer to shake hands rather than offering a kiss – I’m British after all, so it takes at least a thirty minute conversation to break through our social repression. But when I’ve known a woman for a while, and I’m saying hello or indeed goodbye, I inevitably go to kiss her on one cheek, before swiftly moving to kiss the other.
Now that I’m in America, such a move will on 95% of occasions result in me finding myself accidentally missing their cheek and ploughing headlong into their hair instead. Put simply, the object of my greeting will have moved on after one kiss, leaving me to make a bigger spectacle of myself than the time I poured water down my shirt rather than into my mouth in an important job interview.
Americans just don’t get the two kiss thing, and frankly I don’t think they ever will. Most people give me a demented stare that makes me think that they suspect me of attempting to put my tongue in their ear. Others just give me a glance that clearly states “Look, we dislike the French as much as the British do, so why are you even bothering with this charade?”.
I’ve now taken to flagging up ahead of time that I’m going to kiss them twice, claiming that my European origins demand it of me. It doesn’t mean that I make myself stand out any less, but if it means that I don’t end up with yet another mouthful of split ends then it can only be a good thing.