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Friday, January 21, 2011

Kiss And Tell

The other day I (Wally) went to the feria (farmer's market) in Salinas. While waiting in line for my number to be called, a man nearby leaned over, gave me a kiss on the cheek and slipped 100 pesos into my pocket.

While that might not have raised an eyebrow in San Francisco or South Beach, Florida, it would certainly be unusual in most US cities. Actually, the 100 pesos would even be remarked upon in Uruguay. Here is what happened. The man was a painter who had done some work on the house last year. Hence the friendly greeting of a kiss. He neglected to come back for a few last touchups (which I overlooked), due to getting another job- hence the 100 pesos, by way of apology.

This did bring up the question of greeting with a kiss that is common here in Uruguay and also Argentina. In fact kissing is common in many countries, but the custom varies. Expats coming here are often surprised and flustered by this greeting. I remember during the first year we were here, I had arranged to meet an architect, to inspect the home we were about to buy. Though I had never met him personally, I had spoken and corresponded over many months, so I felt we knew each other. I thought that it would be appropriate to give him a kiss on the cheek when we met at the restaurant, prior to visiting the house. He had a beard, but that didn't deter me. Afterward, over coffee, he kindly explained that a handshake would have sufficed. Needless to say, I have tried to learn when and where a kiss was appropriate and when a handshake will do.

First of all, the kiss is not an "air" kiss. It is not sloppy, but it is definitely planted on the right cheek. A kiss is alway acceptable and even expected between members of the opposite sex. Men will always kiss women and vice versa. If you enter a large group, you may work your way around the gathering, giving a kiss to each in turn. Then, when you are seated, new arrivals work their way around to you. It often done when leaving, as well. Women always kiss women. But man to man- that is another story.

Generally men will kiss men if: they are workmates or friends (or I guess in the case of my painter) you have some previous relationship. Apparently meeting someone for the first time in a restaurant is not one of those situations. It is common to visit a grocery store, and see male employees arriving for work and going about kissing all of their fellow employees, male and female. Or seated on a bus, arriving passengers will often greet others with a kiss. Just about anyplace that friends meet, they will greet each, with a kiss on the cheek.

Even when you make friends, a kiss may be appropriate only for closer friends (or obviously family members). Since my wife and I are Jehovah's Witnesses and our association are all brothers and sisters, technically, I would greet all the brothers with a kiss. In fact, however, usually only those we associate with closely expect it. It is sometimes awkward to greet a brother and not know if you feel close enough to kiss or not. There are even a few of the sisters who proffer a hand, rather than receive a kiss, though children (boys and girls) would not think of shaking hands, rather than give a greeting kiss.

This custom was not always practiced so widely in Uruguay. It gained more acceptance within the past 20 years or so. Some have told me that it was due to the influence of Daytime Soap Operas from Argentina, which featured this and others have mentioned the influence of Italian relatives (85% of Uruguayans have some Italian lineage). Whatever the case, whatever the cause- kissing is here and it is here to stay. It is good to know how, who and when to kiss when meeting people.


M. Fernanda said...

I'm Uruguayan and I remember walking into big groups of friends and coworkers (birthday parties, reunions, etc) and when there's like 10 people or more I usually waved hello to everybody (in order to NOT to go cheek to cheek with so many people, not because its gross or anything, it was because well... with so many in a room it can be a lot of work!!) and some people would be kinda offended with that (rolling eyes and all) or friends would say "dont be so lazy and come say hello like it should be done!" (Veni a darnos un beso como se debe no?!") .

Now living in Mexico I usually kiss my coworkers hello and goodbye, but we are a small close group.

But men here dont kiss eachother, that would be tipical Uruguayan I guess.

I know the kiss thing could be a little awkward at times, but you get used to it. I think its not air kiss but its neither full wet-lip either, something in between.

Greetings from Mexico!

Wally said...

Fernando- I know what you mean. When we enter a large group- I let my wife do most of the kissing, all around the room. I will just kiss those I meet on the way in and find a seat. Much easier that way. I guess I'm lazy too.

Anonymous said...

You mentioned Argentina and it is just an air kiss, right cheeks touching in AR. But a really nice way to greet everyone. This us in BA.

Willman Buby Aguirre said...

Wally and Denise
I am reading and enjoying your blog. I have a house en Salinas also, but live in Atlanta, Georgia.
Luisa and Carolina, loved friends, gave me your blog name when i was visiting this past November.
I congratulate both of you and I will keep reading your beautiful histories. It is good for uruguayans to know how other people seen us... Congratulation again.
Best regards Buby Aguirre