The cheek-kiss dilemma is one you’re likely to encounter at some point in your life, especially if you travel or spend time abroad. It’s hard enough to know sometimes whether you should go for a handshake, a hug or a kiss on the cheek, but even when you stick to a cheek-kiss, it can still be tricky. How many? Which side do I start on? (And how do I not end up looking as awkward as the couple in the picture?)
Truth be told, it’s hard to preempt what the other person will do, but having a little cheek-kiss know-how in your cultural arsenal can go a long way. Here are a few tips on how to cheek-kiss properly:
1. Be prepared
If you’re in a group setting where everyone is greeting each other, it’s easiest to hang back, have a nosey at what the others are doing and try to copy that. If it’s a one-on-one encounter, it gets a bit trickier. First things first: be prepared. If the setting is very professional, it’s likely that a handshake may be favored. In most other scenarios a cheek-kiss is just fine.
2. Set it up
Once you’ve committed to a cheek-kiss, make sure you set it up correctly. Approach the person you’re meeting and gently place your hand on their upper arm. “Gently” is the key word here – no one wants to be ambushed or charged at with an outstretched arm. Then turn your cheek towards the other person and lean in.
Let’s pause for a minute here – although most people lead with their right cheek and lean to their left, in Italy it’s customary to lead with the left cheek and lean to the right. It’s not as complicated as it sounds – promise! So, unless you’re on a weekend jaunt to Italy, stick to leaning left.
3. Know how many kisses
This is where it can get a little tricky. Whilst it’s customary to kiss twice in Spain, Italy and most of France, there are other places where people prefer one, two, three or even four kisses. In most cases, it’s safest to opt for the classic middle, one quick kiss on each cheek (for more detailed breakdowns by region, check out this helpful article).
Remember not to actually kiss the person on the cheek. Instead, gently rest your cheek against theirs and kiss the air. There are a select few individuals who insist on kissing others square on the cheek, leaving you to peck the air miles away from their face, but thankfully such experiences are far and few between.
4. Do it all again
Once you’ve mastered the hello, it’s far easier to breeze through the goodbye. Just replicate what you both did upon greeting each other and you’ll be set! The key with cheek-kissing is to be cool, swift and not to overthink – just do what comes naturally whilst keeping the cultural context in mind and you’ll be cheek-kissing with confidence in no time.