Tuesday, April 3, 2012

that awkward moment when ...

Cultural norms take getting used to; a learning curve is to be expected. 

Non-touchy people (such as myself) need to adjust accordingly to the traditions and rituals of the culture in which they hope to live, work, and build friendships.  

Because of this I have been forced to become more comfortable with the Haitian way of kissing a cheek upon greeting. I'd never go so far as to say that it feels natural to me, but I roll with it as best I can.

Every so often I might run into a person that does two cheeks or even three ... Not going to lie, all that back and forth really throws me for a loop.  I've never quite understood the rules of engagement because sometimes people full on kiss your cheek and other times they simply touch cheek to cheek. It is sort of like a cheek high-five. I don't know when you are supposed to do one and when you are supposed to do the other.  It's quite vexing, I know that much.

The three kisses crowd? 

That just seems excessive. Gives me vertigo.

I've been doing some charting and graphing and I can confirm that greetings and goodbyes take one billion times longer ... But to heck with that observation, what is time anyway?  

Saturday Paige's boyfriend was over visiting her.  He comes from the kiss-the-cheek-crowd so I always attempt to get with the program and follow the rules.  

He was sitting down on the floor with Paige when I leaned down to greet him.  I didn't know he was going to move and I completely misjudged and overshot the distance between us as I approached for my culturally appropriate greeting.  

In one terribly awkward slow-motion moment I missed his cheek, instead kissing below his cheek in the region commonly referred to as, the neck.  


Earth swallow me whole.

Embarrassed, I quickly exited the room.  For the next several hours I hoped he didn't think I meant to kiss his neck. Creeper mom much?

A few days have passed now, and I think I am finally ready to talk about it.  

According to Wikipedia:

A kiss is a common gesture of greeting, and at times a kiss is expected. Throughout all cultures people greet one another as a sign of recognition, affection, friendship and reverence. While hand shakes, hugs, bows, nods and nose rubbing are all acceptable greetings, the most common greeting is a kiss, or kisses, on the cheek. Cheek kissing is “a ritual or social gesture to indicate friendship, perform a greeting, to confer congratulations, to comfort someone, or to show respect.”[1] Cheek kissing is most common in Europe and Latin America and has become a standard greeting in Southern Europe.
While cheek kissing is a common greeting in many cultures, each country has a unique way of kissing. In Russia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro the Netherlands and Egypt it is customary to “kiss three times, on alternate cheeks.”[2] Italians usually kiss twice in a greeting and in Mexico and Belgium only one kiss is necessary. In the Galapagos women kiss on the right cheek only[3] and in Oman it is not unusual for men to kiss one another on the nose after a handshake.[4] French culture accepts a number of ways to greet depending on the region. Two kisses are most common throughout all of France but in Provence three kisses are given and in Nantes four are exchanged.[5]

I just told Paige about this unfortunate moment in history.  She laughed until she cried. 
Have you had your own awkward cultural mess-up moment? 
Let's hear it. 


Kim said...

Nothing to share yet (leaving today for Ethiopia again, so you never know...), but I just had to say THANK YOU. Nothing like a good laugh to get the morning started right. :)

Kim said...

HAHAHA! I needed a good laugh this morning, too! Thanks, Tara! Kim - blessings on your trip! We're praying for you all.

Hugues and Jodi said...

LoL! Oh the cheek kissing! Am I supposed to kiss theirs? Or them mine? How many times? It about gives me a heart attack every time! I am constantly asking my husband for the guidelines based on who we are greeting. Problem is...there are none! Thanks for a laugh this morning!

T & T Livesay said...

Hi Kim- :)

The trip isn't until August ... super excited about it. Crazy fun surprise yesterday.

Joanna said...

I totally understand, John's family are MOUTH kissers. Let me tell you what a surprise it was to me the 1st time I met them. It was a little weird to say the least. Nothing like making out with my boyfriends DAD and then his MOM!!! Over time it is getting a little easier but I always make my moves very carefully and be sure not to be caught in mid-sentence. That could be a disaster! Love you T!

Blenda said...

We leave in 2 days for the Czech Republic to visit Regina. I read your research closely for guidance on this cultural issue. Alas, I seem to be left on my own. With 4 Texans on the loose in CZ, I'm sure there will be ample examples of cultural uh-oh's by the time we get back.


Janet said...

For a couple of years, we lived right in the heart of downtown Kansas City, commonly referred to as 'the hood'. We had four kiddos at the time and they were all under 7 years old. They were friendly and outgoing and didn't realize that the Mexican man who lived across the street from us was a drug dealer. After watching a rousing round of Dora the Explorer one morning, we walked out to the car to run an errand. Our 4 year old decided it was a great time to practice her Dora skills and hollered out, "Hola!!" to our neighbor. I wanted to crawl under the car! He gave our very white daughter a strange look and said, "Umm...Hola."

Tamara said...

I lived in France for a while and while I don't mind the cheek kissing norm, I realized that everyone has their own way of doing it. (Thank goodness I didn't live in the Nantes region where, according to Wikipedia, four kisses are the norm. That's just one upsmanship if you ask me...four kisses when one will do? No.) Creepiest for me would be when meeting men for the first time and they would whisper in your ear when doing the kiss. "Enchante" in low breathy tones never really not for me. Yuck. Ick. Heeby jeebies. I can't recall ever misjudging and getting a neck but I can see how it happened; a few times I landed on the lips and that's no reason for celebration either.

Thanks for the laughs.

The Sexton Crew said...

Cougar freak. The boy should press charges.

Leslie said...

Okay, haven't kissed anyone on the neck, though I have had many bumped faces and awkward moments because I wasn't sure of the right number of kisses. This is what I've come up with from over 6 years of "research" - it's a class thing. People in the upper class and anyone that has had a major French influence in any way (included would be foreigners from Europe) will always do 2. Everyone else does 1.

This is the kind of stuff I wish they'd post somewhere at the airport! :)

ManyBlessings said...

I'm going to pee my pants I'm laughing so hard!!!! :D

Melda said...

There are so many cultures on Guam- it's confusing!

You have the old school Japanese crowd that bows - but the younger bows to the older out of respect and then it's different somehow man / woman, that I don't quite understand. The boys swim coach is Japanese. Although I am on the board of the swim club - I try to walk around the pool in opposite directions of his coaching to avoid the broken English conversations followed by the series of bowing and walking backwards until it seems a safe distance to turn around and walk away.

And then the locals are kissers....but not really - more of the cheek to cheek thing with (sometimes but not always) a kissing "sound" made, without a real kiss.

I can deal with both of those better however, than the two arm huggers.... I just don't feel good about a big 'ole wrap around me embrace from someone that I don't really know. Maybe it's all in my head - but mostly because I feel like too many private body parts are coming in contact with each other....

UGH....Tara, you have given me stress this morning - must go run.

Ann Y Stokes said...

Oh mercy -- I'm the queen of awkward greetings/goodbyes. My kids were regularly embarrassed. My husband, too.

I come from TX hugging types. My girls were embarrassed I go for a hug from their classmates. Tried to tone that down over time, but it's hard to curb the urge.

My husband's family are mouth kissers. Never could give in to that one after, on our first meeting, my now deceased father-in-law pulled me in his lap & planted a big wet one on my lips. I bet I stayed a bright shade of red for hours. Then his aunt & uncle & mother all wanted to mouth kiss. Just a peck, but I always managed to make it awkward by turning my head when it was virtually too late ...then a cheek dance ...awkward.

Kissing on the cheeks -- no biggee to me. My husband travels all over the world and has had to get used to all sorts of greeting/leaving rituals. I've gotten where I think it's nice in cultures where men cheek kiss or 'air' kiss each cheek - especially between Christian brothers because it is a sign of true covenant relationship.

Nonetheless ... I feel your pain.

Singing Pilgrim said...

In college I lived on the hall with lots of international students. One day I exited my dorm room and wrinkled up my nose. "What IS that HORRIBLE smell?!" I asked my Sri Lankan friend and across the hall neighbor as she was walking back to her room from the bathroom. She smiled and said, "I got some food from home in a care package I'm making." Oops. I apologized and she waved it off graciously, but I felt really bad. Obviously this was a special and happy occasion (packages from Sri Lanka have to be expensive and let me tell you I doubt she could find or especially afford to get the ingredients she needed in South Carolina). And I blustered through and made things bad. Ah well.

Rachel said...

My father-in-law is a cheek kisser. One Christmas at their house about 3 years ago, I had a couple of glasses of wine. Then it was gift-opening time. I went over to give him a thank you hug for the gift they had given me. I turned my head to kiss him on the cheek, misjudged the distance (thanks, wine) and kissed him straight on the lips. I pretended it didn't happen and sat back down next to Dave.

Melissa said...

Hahah! Thank you for being the one to speak up about this :) If you ever figure out when to kiss and when to "high five with your cheek" please do enlighten me! It's awkward when you go in for kiss and they were thinking cheek high five. Also, thank you for giving me this new slang.

Christina Vander Pol said...

I totally get the whole kiss confusion!
College Concert Choir tour in Romania, 1994. The young lady who had been my hostess was seeing me off before I got on the bus and approached me with the customary cheek kiss (3, I believe). But I got it mixed up and went the wrong direction and somehow managed to smack her right on the lips. She held me back at arm's length and with a confused look said, "noh", as if to say, "that's not how we do it here". The guys on the bus clapped and cheered for me when I got on. Nice.

Carla said...

Oh thanks for the laugh! That's so funny!

Jan said...

I just found your blog from Prairie Flower Farm. I am laughing at your misguided kiss and feel for you embarrassment. I am sure it bothered you much more then the recipient but this too shall pass. What a great story and it brighten my otherwise boring morning reads. I will visit often and am happy to have found your blog. I am going to read more.
Hugs and not too many kisses and lots of blessings.

The Burtons said...

I also just laughed so hard I cried...i thought you were going to say you ended up lip kissing- that would have been even worse and has happened to me!

John & Perla said...

In Paraguay, it's sometimes one, sometimes two, depending on your desire to be thought as high-class. The thing is, you must always start on the, um, is right? or left side? Well, anyway starting on the wrong side will give you full on lips!

In certain Italian cultures, the men grab each other, yes, there.

I guess you are at least glad that you are not called to some nose rubbing country, huh?

Sarah SSM said...

I still haven't figured it out, though at least time spent in France means it's not particularly uncomfortable in itself - just in the "what do I do this time?" area. There are people who aren't surprised if I extend my hand - mostly people who are used to foreigners, I assume - but I think they are often just as confused about what to do with me as others are. It makes me feel better that I'm not the only one challenged at figuring it out! That, and a number of other things that remain great mysteries to me. Thank you for the story.

Elisabeth Shabouk said...

My problem comes when i return to the US and have to stop myself from greeting people with the double cheek touch they do in Kenya. Haha!

Kelly @ Love Well said...

That is HYSTERICALLY awkward. Thank you for letting us laugh at your pain. I almost snorted. And choked. And gave thanks that I currently live in Minnesota, where even a handshake is a little touchy-feeling for most.

T & T Livesay said...

Kelly - I was raised in MN --- that is why touching someone is QUITE uncomfortable --- Minnesotans are notoriously non-touchy. :)

Tonight Kevin (Paige's Boyfriend) said he had no problem with my missed kiss. HAAAAA. I guess it didn't stress him quite as much as it did me.

Gail said...

I just laughed so hard Jody asked me what was wrong!

I made the "which side to start on" mistake with one of my adopted childrens birth mothers. We ended up smacking lips. That in itself wasn't so bad...it was the future meetings when she assumed that was how I wanted to be greeted and she tried to kiss me on the lips EVERY time!!! ACKWARD!!!

Lindsey V said...


Because I was born and raised in Haiti, my cultural norms were the complete opposite.

I went to college, and I found that my personal spaces and desire to touch and be close were abnormal in this American world. I was often perceived as being "friendly" or "flirtatious" even, which was so bizarre to me.

After FINALLY adjusting to the American "way," then we moved to South Africa where people greet by kissing on the lips...and well...for me THAT was just too much! I don't know if that was right or not but I never complied with that one. I kept thinking...Why can't we just kiss on the cheeks??

Rachel N said...

I had a teacher who told a story (years after the incident) of how while in Israel the day they opened the new Holocaust museum, accidentally put out the eternal flame (they now have extinguishers for safety issues). Someone kept moving closer to her while talking- as is their cultural norm- and she kept backing up for more personal space until she backed into the flame extinguisher and puff, the fire went out. She left quickly and someone had relit for the grand opening.

amelia said...

Now that was some good times--thanks for sharing!

Years ago a group from my Bible school went to New Zealand. First, we had to partake in the traditional Maori greeting of touching noses. Awkward.

The next day we went to a church where we performed a dramatic presentation to Watch the Lamb. We actually signed it. WELL, the sign for "watch" was actually akin to the middle finger in NZ. So, yeah, we flipped off the entire congregation--multiple times. Sigh.

Holly said...

So fun! I lived in DRC for 4+ years and totally had the same problem. It is 3 kisses there....I was so lost most of the time. I'm sure I actually kissed lots of cheeks instead of the air next to the cheeks. I have had SO many embarrassing moments I can't even recount them. Though a similar one to yours was in the states when I accidently played footsie with my then fiance's uncle instead of him!