Friday, March 19, 2010

Kissing Catalans

One of the things I have been trying to figure out lately is how to kiss Catalans.

The man?  No problem, got that all figured out.  It's everyone else.

You see, the Catalans do that cheek to cheek kiss thing like the French do, and the Polish and and and and.....the trick is figuring out who you're supposed to do it with and when. You know what I mean, no? Your mouth doesn't actually touch the person's face, because you are both still facing forwards, but your cheeks touch briefly, right cheek to right cheek, then left to left.

I have been quite contentedly going along essentially following people's lead on this for some time and in truth, there are very few people that I do the kiss-kiss thing with.  There is, sadly, no work in English for this greeting - that I know of, and strangely the Catalans also don't have a word/verb for it.

Now, there are the obnoxious air kissers who get close to you but don't quite touch your face and make no noise at all, then there are the really juicy sounding ones who, with their mouth quite close by your ear make big MWAAAAAH noises.  Not so keen on either of those.

Then there is me.  I basically follow the lead, but I am sometimes a wee bit, ah, clumsy in the execution. My poor sisters-in-law have suffered the worst from it, as they were the ones I did the double cheek kiss with most often, especially early on.

You see, sometimes I seem to misjudge distance or speed and come away with aching cheekbones....I've actually whacked someone with my face. They are always very polite about it, and I have never seen anyone actually rubbing their cheekbone as they back away.  Very polite they are.


Then there is the rest of your body.  Do you lean way forward to keep distance with the rest of your body or step right in and stay fairly upright but with much greater proximity?  Do you shake hands or touch in any other way?????  I have offered a hand and then been pulled in for the kiss-kiss like a confused guppy into a vortex of salutation.

If you are in the middle of saying something, do you keep talking?  Pause the conversation?  Let it drop???  Haven't figured out that rule yet.

Some rules I have figured out:

Rule 1.  Unless you are very pretentious the kiss-kiss is only done when you quite like someone and haven't seen them in a long time.

Rule 2.  Rule 1 does not always apply.

Rule 3.  It is normally not done within a professional setting, for instance your OBGYN should not kiss you at the beginning or end of a visit.

Rule 4.  Rule 3 does not always apply.

 Rule 5.  It is not an appropriate way to congratulate someone, nor an expression of affection or contentment.  ie, it cannot substitute for a hug.

Rule 6.  People look surprised if you make an error with rule 5.

I have done that twice recently, hence the study.

One was a friend's birthday.  She is quite a good friend and we went for coffee on the big day.  I wished her a happy birthday, and if she had been another North American I would have given her a hug, however, we were in the center of a small town café and it Catalans just don't really hug.  However it felt quite cold to not touch her at all on her birthday, so I went for the kiss-kiss.  She didn't complain, but was distinctly surprise.

Second occasion, I ran into a woman here in the village who I really like, and I believe feels the same way, though we have not advanced to friendship per se.  We were chatting about something or other, and she mentioned something that left me utterly delighted.  I would have hugged her in Canada.  Again, public street and a strong sense that hugging just isn't done, so I went for the kiss-kiss and she looked surprised.  Not unhappy, but a bit stunned.

So I arrive at rule number 7.

Rule 7.  Kiss-kiss actions are purely for greeting someone and for saying goodbye. Anything else is odd.

I believe they chalk my errors up to fruitiness.  Could be worse.

There is also considerable gender variation within this rule,

Rule 8.   Men do not do the kiss-kiss thing unless they are life long friends or family.   This means that the when the man and I are out, I will get kiss-kissed by people who shake his hand.  Considerably less familiarity is needed for a man-woman kiss-kiss than a man-man combination would allow.

There are also some unspoken rules about men and women instigating the kiss-kiss thing in a man-woman combination. This I am unsure of as I always simply follow other people's leads.

There is also an age related element to this, which I haven't figured out at all.  Sorry, no help there.  For instance no one does the kiss-kiss thing with teenagers unless they are really quite a bit older; 40 min (Eldest, when asked, stated that only really really old people do the kiss-kiss with her, like my age and up.)  Teenage girls hug.  They hug a lot.  Teenage boys punch each other in the shoulder or grab each other around the neck.  Younger children are kiss-kissed by a wider range of people, from 20 up but they both say that it happens quite infrequently.  I have seen very very few to no seniors doing it.  Maybe they only do it with family.

Another interesting study of this:  a group of my adult students were finishing a course.  We had been working together since October so at this point we know each other pretty well.  It is, however, the last class.  One of the male students thanked me sincerely and shook my hand making clear eye contact.  One older man came to the kiss-kiss but with a sense of reluctance because others were doing it. Two younger men simply leaned in and did the kiss-kiss, one of the two women, again younger than me simply kiss-kissed, while the other woman, who is not Spanish, but is from Georgia though she has lived here a long time was awkward.  I suspect that she usually follows other people's leads, as do I, so the two of us together found us doing that sidewalk dance, plus she added in some holding onto my arms, which felt like a hug that wasn't allowed to go any further.

Interestingly, I felt the most completely thanked by the man who shook my hand and looked me in the eye. Something about the level of eye-contact led to a higher sense of sincerity.  The kissers who left a stronger sense of sincerity followed up with eye-contact as well as a bit of conversation after the kiss-kiss event.

I so have to invent a word for this.


Who do you kiss????  Who do you kiss-kiss??????


Anonymous said...

I've often been asked how this thing works by Canadian people surprised by this (we do it in France, too).

That's a very complicated set of rules you have. I'd cut it down for:
1) only for greeting / goodbye, and when either:
- at least one woman/close friend/relative is involved.
- two gay men are involved
2) apply the kiss-kiss to people you'd hug if you were in Canada.


1) rules out the Birthday situation.
2) rules out the professional and men-to-men situations.

mmichele said...

LOVE this. In Holland, they generally kiss kiss kiss. And I think you are allowed to kiss in thanks for a gift or in an effusive moment. Of course, all our mistakes are written off because we are Canadians.

I am going to ask my CanaDutch blogging friend about this.

oreneta said...

ElP, how strict are these rules, what are the implications of people, who should no better unlike me, breaking them? Forward? I imagine there are some differences in the Catalan/French rules, but that seems pretty clear.

Mmichele: There are spots that do a quadruple kiss, I believe Poland does, though I'm not sure. It would start to take up a lot of your time, no?

kate said...

No time to comment in detail now, but this is an issue that has plagued me greatly. I have developed my own theories on the rules (pretty close to what you mentioned, though there are plenty of exceptions...)

The only thing I will add is that my MIL does the kiss kiss thing when someone gives her a gift (and directs the kids to do this as well.) Though young kids here only do one kiss, not two.

And apparently in Spanish families (or at least in hers) there is the tradition of not only kissing family members goodnight (not on the lips) but also good morning. I just find that a bit much-- not too keen on kissing before morning ablutions are performed, for one thing. So I don't. But I have seen here do it with her grown children.

oreneta said...

Kate! I was hoping you'd wade into the debate! There are so many variations and personal preferences.....a mine field for the unwary. Do you think my process of simply doing as the romans, so to speak, is a sound one?????

Anonymous said...

Rule #3: Foreigners don't initiate the process. So you're not supposed to break the rules. Worst case scenario, you don't kiss people when it would have been socially acceptable, and you get away with it, "because it is not expected of you to know that you were supposed to do it in this very particular situation, shame on the local".
Also, if you back out when a local initiates, they are allowed to be offended.

oreneta said...

Sooooo that means I have to let ANYONE kiss me? What if it's feels really creepy??????

Anonymous said...

well, I suppose people would have a right to be offended if you consider them "creepy" ;).