In Italy it is a common practice to greet someone with a light kiss on both their cheeks. This holds true even if you are just newly acquainted or if you have known someone for quite a long time. At an Italian social event you can just imagine that half the time is spent kissing people hello and the rest of the time kissing everyone goodbye! For folks from Anglo Saxon countries, where a sturdy and powerful handshake suffices for both coming and going, this custom is quite endearing. It makes people like me want to pucker up their lips and express themselves as an Italian would.
But, in my exuberance to embrace the culture of kissing, I have found myself in some embarrassing situations like these:
1) Incorrectly anticipating which side to begin a kiss, one ends up bashing noses or butting foreheads.
2) Instead of delivering two discrete “air kisses” to an Italian, an American energetically delivers two exuberant kisses where lips actually touch skin, accompanied by a friendly bear hug (because that’s what we Americans do) and then feels really stupid for overstepping bounds of decorum.
3) The ballet of swiveling heads, in which both people turn at precisely the same moment and in the same direction, causing mouths to meet and kisses to be planted on lips, instead of cheeks.
To make a good impression, avoid face bumping, breaking someone’s nose or running the risk of a restraining order, I decided do a little investigative reporting to uncover the correct way to conduct a proper italian greeting. I started off by asking an Italian friend her advice on the matter. I then proceeded to do a little research on the internet, where it was not at all surprising to find that a great deal has already been written about the art of kissing. Ahem. However in regard to the Italian greeting, I discovered that it is customary to start with the right cheek and then elegantly move to the left cheek. Two “air kisses” will suffice followed by a delicious onomatopoeic “smack”, customary for most women of course, so as to not mess up blush or leave lipstick marks. However, just to make it that much more confusing, if you find yourself in Spain, remember to reverse all that. Apparently in other latin countries they start with the opposite cheek. In the event that you unexpectedly end up receiving three kisses instead of the customary two, consider yourself super lucky because it is believed that three kisses bring good fortune.