The Etiquette of Social Kissing

The difference between American and European greetings has long been known.  The American prefers a firm handshake, while a European opens with a kiss on the cheek.  It has been the subject of many a TV comedy faux pas.  But in modern times, meeting people of different culture is commonplace.  So in honor of this month’s Olympic opening, let’s pucker up for a look at the etiquette behind a greeting kiss.

The Social Norm

It may be unsurprising that the social “rule” for kissing is as murky as any other.  Not only does it vary between the US and Europe, but also between different countries worldwide.  A Russian might kiss you three times on alternating cheeks, while in Italy two kisses on the cheek is acceptable.

As if that is confusing enough, who you can kiss is as widely varied as how you can kiss.  In the US kissing is usually reserved to family and very close friends, while in Italy kissing is common amongst acquaintances.

Though the standards of social kissing may be blurry, it’s important to recognize situations in which kissing could be a mistake that creates an awkward situation.

Not on the Lips!

You kiss your husband or wife on the lips.  A peck on the lips may even be common between members of your family.  Yet a social kiss on the lips with an associate or acquaintance may be a definite faux pas.  Even in cultures where the kiss serves as “hello,” kissing on the lips is seldom considered the standard.

Kiss Me at…the Office?

While kissing on your own time may be the norm, kissing on the job is usually a no-no.  This can be a particularly confusing affair if you’re conducting international business.  If you’re meeting with associates you may suspect to be kissers, offering a handshake is always a safe way to keep everyone happy.

If you are the kissing kind, make sure to take into consideration that your associate or client may not be.  While a greeting kiss may become more acceptable after a long-term relationship has been established, a smooch to soon may be a huge turn off and a way to lose associates.

To Kiss or Not to Kiss

Social kissing is a situation in which a conservative approach may best serve everyone.  A few simple rules to remember may help you avoid that awkward moment everybody fears—don’t kiss on the lips, don’t kiss unsuspecting clients or coworkers, and keep in mind the cultural environment you’re in so that you don’t get caught off guard.

Best Regards,


Best regards,


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