Friday, March 24, 2006

A Call to Standardize New York Kissing

I've lived in New York for seven years now and pretty much know my way around all the idiosyncracies that make it different from the Midwest, where I grew up. You know: that coffee with milk and sugar is "light and sweet," that trading sexual partners as often as you change your socks is not frowned upon, that crosswalks are merely suggestions.

But one thing I've never quite acclimated to is the East Coast greeting kiss. Where I grew up ("Puritanland," or "Stoic Lutheranville"), if you ran into an old friend or relative you'd perhaps acknowledge them with fleeting and embarassed touch to the elbow, or maybe an awkward one-armed hug. Males greet each other with downcast eyes and a shuffle of the feet, or in more boisterous (i.e., drunken) situations a hearty punch to the upper arm or a noogie.

But here in New York, most people greet one another with a kiss. I remember the first time I brought a New York boyfriend back to South Dakota to meet the folks. My handsome boyfriend descended upon my sweet, sweet mother with an affectionate smack on the cheek, and my father -- unaccustomed to such behavior -- looked as though he were about to throttle the poor guy for moving in on his woman. My dad still talks about it: "I can't BELIEVE he kissed your mother! Is that how you DO things out there? Really??!" (That being said, my father kind of has an issue with kissing -- to this day, he refuses to stay out until midnight on New Year's Eve because 20 years ago someone planted a smooch on my mom as the ball dropped, and he can't stand the thought of it happening again. This is the cause of much eye-rolling in my family.)

I guess the kiss-greeting must be something we've co-opted from all the eager-lipped Europeans in our midst because it sure as hell isn't common in most of the country (I've visited 44 of the 50 states, which is probably far more than most New Yorkers have explored, so I feel secure in this proclomation). But even here, where the kissing is common, everyone seems confused. Because of the mish-mash of cultural backgrounds that coexist in New York, no one seems to know whether they should always kiss, and, when kissing, where and how many times to kiss. Some go for the one-cheek kiss, Europeans sometimes kiss on each side (two kisses total) and the ambitious (or are they just ITALIAN?) go for broke and want THREE smacks just for saying hello. SWAK indeed.

Personally, this has resulted in some really awkward situations. I've kissed Europeans I assumed were two-cheek kissers that turned out to be one-cheek wonders, and ended up smashing my puckered mug against their rapidly retreating nose. This is how I once ended up half-planting a smooch on the chin of the South African who co-leads my Bible study. Talk about embarassing -- "Hi, let's discuss Jesus, and then I'll christen your face with my saliva." We both just kind of turned and ran, and now we know to stick to the one-cheek kiss.

To further avoid embarassing kiss-haps, I propose we STANDARDIZE the New York greeting kiss. One kiss, on the other person's left cheek (or, the kisser leans to the normally dominant right to plant the kiss).

This will create a city of confident kissers, and the rules are such that even my father could understand.


Blogger Mike said...

My last thoughts awhile back, before getting sucked in to the one cheek kiss standard:

"Whatever happened to a hearty handshake?"

5:01 PM  

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