Latin America

To kiss or not to kiss?

Today (July 6th) is World Kiss Day so what better day to write about the kissing culture in Spanish-speaking countries across the globe. From handshakes to kisses – how do you handle these awkward introductions?

As a Spanish tutor one question I get asked a lot once students have learnt the basic greetings of buenos días (good morning) and buenas tardes (good afternoon) is how do you know whether to kiss someone or not when you greet them?

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you’ll know that I lived in South America for 20 years. I first arrived in Venezuela in 2022 and after 12 months there I spent the next few years making my way down to Mendoza in Argentina where I resided for 15 years, started my travel agency The Grapevine Argentina and started a family.

So you could say I’m pretty well equipped to tackle this topic. Hopefully this blog post will answer some of your questions and help turn those awkward moments into comfortable exchanges.

Firstly it’s important to know that kissing etiquette differs from continent to continent. In Spain for example it’s customary to give dos besos (two kisses), one on each cheek (left to right cheek). Some people (men to men) shake hands unless they are related or close friends, but women to women usually do two kisses. When women and men are greeting each other it’s usually the men who kiss. Unless it’s a formal business meeting, in that case greetings are much like in the UK, handshakes are more appropriate. In South America however it’s just un beso (one kiss) on the right cheek. Nice and simple!

Don’t forget that the besos are given both when you say hola and ádios.

As a foreigner the whole besos thing can feel quite ‘clunky’, even when you know what to do – but stick with it. It takes a bit of getting used to but those awkward moments of meeting someone for the first time and wondering whether to hand shake, hug or kiss (pre Covid-19 of course) will soon become easier.

When I first arrived in Argentina for example I was already used to the one beso etiquette but even so I was still fairly new and considered una gringa (white English person) by people for quite a while (don’t despair at this), and much like many newly arrived foreigners, once I got the hang of the besos I didn’t know when to stop and went around giving everyone I met un beso (true story).

And to conclude this post it’s important for me to mention that it is customary at the beginning and end of an (every!) event that you go around the room greeting each and every person (I mean everyone!) with un beso. This takes a while and can feel a little silly, but it is an important part of Spanish & South American etiquette.

Hopefully this post has set things straight for you. If you’re in doubt go for the hand shake – it’s safe (especially in this post-Covid World) and well it makes for a great conversation (one that you will be repeating for many, many, many years to come).

Has Covid-19 put a end to kissing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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