Social Kissing Rules
A kiss isn’t always just a kiss when it comes to social protocol. Claire Howorth on the many ways to peck properly.
As summer draws to a close, a certain set is packing up their canvas totes, straw bags, and Louis Vuitton steamers, departing their summer homes, and preparing for September. Now begins the social season: fundraisers, fashion week, red carpet premieres and literary parties. In other words, a lot of meeting and greeting that beg the complicated question of pecking protocol: To kiss or not to kiss? And then, is it to kiss-kiss, or to kiss-kiss-kiss?
The Daily Beast sought out Lizzie Post and a handful of other social pros for authoritative answers.
1. ONCE IS OK, BUT TWICE IS NICE.
Post, who heads her great-grandmother’s Emily Post Institute, said Americans do it less. “A kiss on the cheek just once and it’s done,” she said, but added that some, influenced by Europeans, have begun to bring two into popular use.
Power publicist Lorenzo Martone, (and former boyfriend of designer Marc Jacobs), said it’s a judgment call. “I try to read the person’s energy—in a split second—before making that decision.” He, too, believes that geography matters. “I was born in Brazil so I always have the excuse for going ahead and kissing the other person—clichés of a culture. And always twice—the chic and sexy people I know always kiss twice.”
For some, only thrice will suffice. “I've always found that the European triple-cheek kiss is my preferred method for everyone, but very close friends and lovers,” said Brooke Geahan, a Manhattan girl-about-town who founded the Accompanied Library Society. The “warmth” and “sustained contact” of three kisses “gives one a chance to remember the person’s name as well as recollect where you saw them last.”
2. SPACE ON THE FACE? CHEEK NEVER MOUTH.
A brush of lips to cheek is an acceptable greeting around the world—even among Communist leaders.
“The right place to kiss is a little ways off the corner of the mouth, to where the face begins to round out,” said Post.
“Never mouth-kiss—no way,” warned Lisa Eisner, the Los Angeles photographer and socialite. She prefers the single kiss. “But I used to live in France so sometimes I forget, and then it gets messy.”
The “lip-slip” is certainly confusing.
Neel Shah, a writer on NBC’s upcoming sitcom, Friends With Benefits, said that, on several occasions recently, he has been on the receiving end of “a closed-mouth, lip-to-lip kiss.” As he said: “It’s thrown me every time it’s happened.”
“L.A. seems to me to have a much more lax greeting-kiss-culture than does New York,” said Neel Shah, who spent five years doing “the 'double kiss hello’” at NYC cocktail parties.
3. STAY TO THE RIGHT
In New York, greeting and kissing has lately become very perplexing. “It’s become sort of Euro with two kisses – right cheek first, then left,” said Marjorie Gubelmann, founder of Vie Luxe, and a Manhattan social fixture. “Sometimes people do left then right…so you have this awkward moment where you almost kiss on the lips.”
The way to go? Right side first—just remember, it’s the same side as a handshake.
4. HUGS ARE JUST FOR FRIENDS.
Hugging, on the other hand, should be saved for friends only.
“A hug is more intimate because you’re inviting someone completely into your personal space,” said Post.
“I only hug people I really feel like hugging,” agreed Martone. “For acquaintances, a handshake will do.”
5. TURN THE OTHER CHEEK
And then there are moments that call for no touching or smooching.
“Refrain from kissing and hugging in more serious business situations, or if it’s your first time meeting someone,” said Post. A handshake does the trick, She added.
6. WHEN IN ROME…
…do as Martone does. The publicist doesn’t change his style according to location. “I carry my protocol with me everywhere I go,” he said. “Unless I'm meeting the queen, I won't change my kissing.”
Shah, for his part, has been thrown by how differently people greet on the coasts. “L.A. seems to me to have a much more lax greeting-kiss-culture than does New York,” said Shah, who spent five years doing “the 'double kiss hello’” at NYC cocktail parties. But when he attempted to do the same out west, he encountered “awkward nose bumping.”
And then there are the contrarians.
“I do the double-cheek to girls, especially square American ones who act a little shocked,” said John Taki Theodoracopolus, a Brooklyn-based artist. “If you’re in a room full of Euros, and even the dudes are kissing each other, it can also be fun to go shake the prettiest girl’s hand.”
7. THE KISS-OFF
Do make sure there’s physical contact. Kissing thin air is not comme il faut, especially among Europeans.
“Air kisses look and feel disingenuous,” said Post.
8. UNLESS YOU’RE SICK
That rule, however, carries a health warning. If you’re in the throes of swine flu, or you’ve got a cold, by all means kiss just the air.
Eisner, who lives in a city obsessed with health, has noticed that people have gotten quite germ-phobic. “Now [they] don't kiss or hug, but do a knuckle-clunk.”
9. PREEMPTING PECKING
There may be times when you don’t want to greet others as intimately as they’d like to greet you. “Quickly extend [your] hand to start the process immediately, before the other person has a chance to kiss,” advised Post.
“Social kissing is the bane of my existence,” complained Taki Theodoracopolus, the Greek shipping heir, gossip columnist and father of John Taki. “Old women with pulled faces seem to indulge in social kissing to the extreme. The only time it’s acceptable is when it takes place among the young. Otherwise the halitosis of the old, their extreme make up and the heavy jewels they wear on their tired ears, get in the way. Old people should bow to each other and keep physical contact to a minimum.”
Eisner has had her share of uncomfortable moments. “It’s always weird when women have bad boob jobs and they like to kiss and hug, and their boobs are hard,” she said, adding that encounters with men can be equally bad, like when “you feel a little penis action.”
10. AND BE PREPARED TO FAIL
It’s awkward but just remember, you’re not the first and you won’t be the last.
Claire Howorth is the Arts editor at The Daily Beast.