Monday, February 1, 2010

A Kiss is Just a Kiss

You probably know that people kiss hello and goodbye here in BsAs. I like the kiss, something that is somehow more emotive and warmer than just a simple, clammy handshake. Of course, this means when you are leaving a party it can take forever and a day to kiss everyone goodbye, but I digress.

Anyway, I bring up the kiss for two reasons… one is because I always struggle with what to do when I meet fellow Americans. Do I kiss them? Of I do I just say hello with a feeble wave or even WORSE, a limp halfhearted handshake?

I have fallen on the side of the kiss route, mostly because I am a when-in-Rome-kinda-gal, which hasn’t always served me but at least I am consistent!

The other reason why I mention the kiss is that often men will kiss each other in greeting too. Just a peck on the cheek to say hello. And no, this is not just the gay men, I promise! I have seen old men kiss hello, the guys at the gym kiss hello, buddies meeting for lunch in a busy café. Even reader Emily commented about how this is part of work culture as well.

Of course, I was super-curious about this custom. I asked and poked around a bit and it seems this male kissing phenomena is unique to Argentina in Latin America. You may find it in other cultures, including in the Middle East and of course, Italy. Even in some parts of the former Soviet Union you can find men who will embrace with a little kiss. But Brazil? No. In Colombia – forget about it. Colombians don’t really kiss hello for the most part, it is more of handshake type of society even for the chicks. NB: Reader Yonas H comments that in Portugal, men in fact, do kiss.

What’s so interesting about the dude kiss is that machismo level of Argentine society. Many of these men who are kissing their dude friends hello are cut from the cloth of some of the most macho men en el mundo. Argentine society can sometimes be a retro throwback – at a party, the women and men can usually been seen gathered in gender specific groups, something out of a sweet 16. I’ve talked incessantly about the level of sexism here, so I don’t need to remind you, my loyal readers about this or why it would seem a tad peculiar to have dudes showing some affection to other dudes.

I will say though, that maybe because there’s so much kissing everywhere, maybe the kiss doesn’t mean as much as it would to a gringa, yanqui or whatever you want to call us cooler blooded northern folk. After all, a kiss is just a kiss. Even if you get them from different people all day long.



Yonas H. said...

I do find that very interesting, and I often find myself in the same exact predicament as you: do I kiss American women upon meeting them or when saying hi/bye? When hanging out overseas for an extended period of time, it's hard to break that habit! Plus, I think we need to make a more proactive effort with incorporating the kiss into our society ;)

The only place I've been where men kiss each other as a greeting is Portugal. They do it nonstop there and it's not such a big deal. However, those dudes aren't as, um...."macho" as Argentines.

In the Czech Republic it's very common to say hi/bye to women you know with a quick smooch on the lips. Now that's awesome. Needless to say, I really enjoyed living there :)

Unknown said...

Yonas, I agree... we need more kissing!
Interesting about Portugal, will amend my post.

Evan Glass said...


Unknown said...

In my 2+ years in the private sector in BA, I´ve also found it interesting that the kiss is a pretty standard (although not ubiquitious) feature of the professional world. Took me some time to get used to kissing everyone in the office each morning (or at least the people you come into direct contact with in the am- even in the bathroom). It´s also pretty common in first-time business meetings (although depending on some code I have still not quite deciphered, sometimes the handshake happens there)

Unknown said...

@Evan - muah back!
@Emily - at work too? Ingrained more than I thought, will add to the post, thanks!
And muah to all!!

Unknown said...

I agree it´s always a bit of a conundrum what to do when confronted with so many people to kiss but that YES when in Rome... I´m in Ecuador right now and the other day was leaving a dinner party early and so it took me quite a long while to say good bye to everyone still gathered round the table - including 5 young children. You almost feel silly doing it, but must remind yourself this is not just a formality, you would actually be offending people if you didn´t kiss each and every one of them goodbye.

Oh and TWO cheers for the Argentinian male kiss. I love that they do that, esp given all the machismo.


Anonymous said...

male kiss is common but ONLY between men that know each other for a while.
if they are meeting for the first time, it's really weird if they kiss.
and NEVER with old men. my father for example never kiss with his friends or my male friends.not even with his son in law.
so, be careful! don't be so generous with the kissing thing.

Unknown said...

@karen, wow Ecuador too! Thanks for the tip.
@cecilia, thanks for the insight on the old guys!