Ahh, Italian kisses, the stuff of movies, romance and… no this post is not that romantic! Italian kisses are confusing, they are perplexing and inconsistent and sometimes head-bumping and embarrassing. Told you it wasn’t going to be romantic!
I’m talking about greeting and kissing Italian friends in Italy. In all our travels to Italy we never really had to think about kissing anyone but, well, ourselves alone. Staying on past holidays in Italy, as tourists, in remote self-catering homes, meant we hardly saw a soul, apart from venturing out to the markets and restaurants as unidentifiable tourists that no one wanted to kiss, thank goodness! Now, living in Italy, it is a different matter.
Since buying our house in March this year we have established some wonderful friendships in our area, most of them are our neighbours, 9 people locally and Natascia and Marco our estate agents from Acqui Terme, who have become firm friends. Most are Italian and two are Swiss married to Italians. So far so great. But one of the delicate moments that I struggle with when greeting any of these new friends is the ‘kiss’. You can read all you like about this on Google and think you know the right way but, as with so many things in Italy, there are regional differences and rules are complicated. So far I have to try and remember who does what kisses, on what side, in what style and when, as there are four different kissing greeting styles we have encountered, so far, and we have to remember them all, depending on who we are greeting!
Firstly, there is the two kisses approach, firstly one to your right of the persons face (their left cheek) and then to the left side (their right cheek). Awkward in itself coming from a land where we greet our very best friends with one peck grazing their right cheek – full stop! So now, like driving on the opposite side of the road, I have to remember the opposite side of the face first, fortunately, and this is how I remember it, both are on my right side!
Secondly, there are three kisses, one to your right side of their face (their left cheek), then the left and back to the right of their face (their left cheek). Giovanni sprang this one on us both when we had our first dinner at his family home, Giovanni originally hails from Sardinia, I’m not sure if this is a Sardinian style though. Much head knocking ensued, at that first dinner, from going the wrong way in the early greeting with him and his family and then assuming the kissing had ended when there was another kiss left to do, lots of, “Ur, sorry, um, ah ha ha - yes we are Irish and we are used to one, ha ha, yes, but when in Italy, ha ha, ahhh”, cringe! So we had to get this kissing started off properly. We then took this three kiss rule to meet Natascia and Marco for lunch, they went along with it too. ‘Excellent’, we thought, we have nailed the kissing!
Thirdly, we noticed with Giovanni’s wife, who is Swiss, that she prefers proper air kisses, like a fashion diva, which she is not, she is the gentlest loveliest lady but it is the Swiss way to ‘Mwah’ into the air three times, starting the air kiss above their left cheek.
Fourthly, there is one person who likes one kiss, to the left cheek side, we haven’t worked out why this is yet though. There just is no consistency, I love being in Italy, they really keep me on my toes.
Then there is the diplomatic trick of remembering all these different greeting arrangements when we all meet for a dinner party, a regular occurrence with our neighbours, this is particularly difficult at the end of the night after a feast of food and lots of good wine when the kissing repeats again, this time in saying good night.
We have recently learned from Natascia that she was going along with our three kisses, which we had inherited from Giovanni, as she thought it must be the Irish way of kissing and was being polite by following our lead! Yeah right! Irish, yes maybe the Irish are known as really friendly people but intimate gestures, forget about it! So we have learnt that she does two kisses, starting on the persons left cheek. Ahhhhhhh!
But the golden, Italian kissing greeting etiquette, rules here is that firstly men kiss men in exactly the same way as described above, so everyone gets kisses! So both Andrew and I have had to struggle through this learning curve together. How very cool is that! Secondly, the kissing greeting commences at the second meeting, so in the first meeting a polite, standard, hand shake and ‘piacere’ (nice to meet you), is the starting point. Then kissing begins from the second meeting onwards, if it is in a social, friendship forming, context, not a formal meeting at the bank etc.
I reckon the easiest way, if socialising in a group, is to hang back and watch others kiss first, see how they are kissing and then replicate the correct way to show how culturally sophisticated you are.
I love living in Italy.
Next installment - Love thy Neighbour!
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