The Cheek Kiss Gone Wrong: A Miami Girl’s foray into the Awkward Greeting Shuffle.
As a denizen of Miami, born and raised, the kiss on the cheek has been a staple of my everyday life. When I meet someone new, I smile, maybe offer a hand…and then I give them a kiss on the cheek. Albeit, most of the time its more of a brush on the cheek, but a kiss nonetheless. On my way out the door, I make the rounds, give and receive many cheek kisses and go off on my merry way.
Is this normal? Yes. It’s normal if you live in Miami…or South America…or Europe. But I sure didn’t know that before the age of 18 as I happily left home for my first foray into the bold, new world.
Imagine my shock as I walked into my icebreaker event as a freshman at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and had to greet a bunch of nervous, shy and unsure man-children who only wanted to make friends and not drown in all the new experiences they knew were to come. I approached my first unsuspecting target. Little did I know that I was making a target of myself. I smiled as naturally as I could at the blond girl (who was a natural blond, not the bleached blonds you find down here in the 3-0-5) and held out my hand. When she took it, I leaned in for the customary “hello” kiss and received my first shock. She backed away with wide eyes.
Did I have a booger hanging out of my nose? I glanced around and saw people waving awkwardly or waving shy hellos.
I quickly recalled the many t.v. shows I’d watched of white people greeting each other. I say this ironically as I am as white as they come. However, I am from Miami. That is a whole different flava of white girl where we can ACTUALLY dance and, I daresay, kiss on the cheek.
I eventually got used to the rather subdued greeting where personal space seemed to be the goal. After a while I caught on. It was a cultural thing. You just didn’t invade space in public. It wasn’t kosher. That, I could deal with.
When I headed to Colorado for grad school after living in Miami again for several years, I was greeted with the same kissing reticence. However, this time I was prepared with previous experience. I had my handshake ready. But even then I made a faux pas. Most people just waved their hands and smiled! WTF?! It seemed so cold, formal and awkward to me as though a touch would definitely pass along some sort of cooties. But again, I gradually got used to it.
Upon my second return to Miami I continually mused over the fact that even in America there were so many different social norms from coast to coast. For me the interest was in the cultural difference rather than the awkwardness of the situation. But, I still feel awkward on occasion.
I had a discussion at a party the other day where a Cuban man could not understand a white person’s or a person from middle America’s inability to kiss on the cheek. Did she think it was a sexual overture? He tried to make a point that many would not kiss on the cheek but would then jump in the back of the car for some of the horizontal tango. It was a very weak point (and a very crazy one at that), but at its core it was a misunderstanding between two people of different social norms. I personally don’t like the Awkward Greeting Shuffle (AGS) where I lean in, but then back up and then the person I’m greeting feels awkward and leans in as well, and then we do the AGS for a few seconds, wondering how to greet while finally ending up patting each other on the back amidst nervous mutterings. However, c’est la vie. If we were all the same, it’d be boring. FO’ REALZ.
My next point of discussion comes from conversations with Asian friends, perusals 0f Asian culture on the internet and *bows her head* my over indulgence in Asian drama. If I make a point that is incorrect, feel free to correct me…with PROOF. (ie: I’m Asian, I formally study Asian culture, I live in Asia, etc.) I don’t mind being wrong, but please teach me something that’s actually useful.
Now, I know in most of Asia, greeting are more formal and unless an Asian is dealing with a westerner, touching generally doesn’t happen on the first greeting. A kiss on the cheek would be embarrassing and downright rude. In a way, however, I admire this. Rules of greeting are very strict and leave little room for uncertainty (or the AGS). It would actually be a comfort to someone such as me to know exactly how to greet someone rather than do the I’m-from-Miami-but-you’re-not-so-what-the-hell-do-I-do shuffle. Personal space is something that is just the norm (just like in North Carolina where I first humiliated myself). But everyone knows about it. If someone from Tokyo visits Kyoto you bow, say my name is, hajimemashite and/or dozo yoroshiku. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.
On that same note, if I travel to South America there will be kisses all around! Hooray! In the same vein as Asian culture, when you greet someone in Argentina, you give them a kiss/hug and off you are to the start of a new acquaintanceship.
The point of this long ramble is that I would really like to know how to greet people wherever I go. But in America you never know what you’re gonna get. I find it easier when I travel to places with longer histories and well-established cultures. Want me to shake your hand? Sure. Want me to bow? Great. Want a kiss (or two) on the cheek? Fo’ shizzle homes. Just let me know. ‘Cause I REALLY hate the AGS.
“Happiness is like a kiss – it feels best when you give it to someone else.”
End Rant 2.