Cheek kissing is a ritual or social kissing gesture to indicate friendship, perform a greeting, to confer congratulations, to comfort someone, to show respect, or to indicate sexual or romantic interest.
Cheek kissing is very common in Southern, Central and Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Latin America. It is not as common in English-speaking Canada and the United States, Asia and Northern Europe. However, there are some exceptions in the United States and Canada, including ethnic neighborhoods, such as Italian, French, or Hispanic neighborhoods, as well as Quebec, Louisiana and Miami.
Depending on the local culture, cheek kissing may be considered appropriate among family members as well as friends and acquaintances: a man and a woman, two women, or two men. The last is socially accepted in many cultures where cheek kissing is prevalent, with exceptions, particularly in portions of Latin America.
In Eastern Europe, male–female and female–female cheek kissing is a standard greeting among friends, while male–male cheek kisses are common, if somewhat less so. Eastern European communist leaders often greeted each other with a socialist fraternal kiss on public and state occasions. In Europe overall, the greeting among men is increasingly common, especially among the young.
Where cheek kissing is not customary, there may be associations with homosexuality as in East Asia, some places in Latin America, the United States, English Canada, and Northern Europe.
In a cheek kiss, both persons lean forward and either lightly touch cheek with cheek or lip with cheek. Generally the gesture is repeated with the other cheek, or more, alternating cheeks. Depending on country and situation, the number of kisses is usually one, two, three or four. Hand-shaking or hugging may also take place.
Cheek kissing is used in many cultures with slightly varying meaning and gesture. For example, cheek kissing may or may not be associated with a hug. The appropriate social context for use can vary greatly from one country to the other, though the gesture might look similar.
In cultures and situations where cheek kissing is the social norm, the failure or refusal to give or accept a kiss is commonly taken as an indicator of antipathy between the people, and to dispel such an implication and avoid giving offense may require an explanation, such as the person has a contagious disease such as a cold.
In the United States and Canada, the cheek kiss may involve one or both cheeks. According to the March 8, 2004 edition of Time Magazine, "a single [kiss] is [an] acceptable [greeting] in the United States, but it's mostly a big-city phenomenon." Occasionally, cheek kissing is a romantic gesture.
Cheek kissing of young children by adults of both sexes is perhaps the most common cheek kiss in North America. Typically, it is a short, perfunctory greeting, and is most often done by relatives.
Giving someone a kiss on the cheek is also a common occurrence between loving couples.
Cheek kissing between adults, when it occurs at all, is most often done between a man and woman who know each other well, such as between relatives or close friends. In this case, a short hug (generally only upper-body contact) or handshake may accompany the kiss. Also common is cheek kissing between two women who know each other or are related. Likewise, hugs are common but not required. A hug alone may also suffice in both of these situations, and is much more common. Particularly in the southeastern United States (Southern), elderly women may be cheek kissed by younger men as a gesture of affection and respect.
In Québec, cheek kissing is referred to in the vernacular (Québécois) as un bec ("donner un bec") or la bise ("faire la bise"). Whether francophone or other, people of the opposite sex often kiss once on each cheek. Cheek kissing between women is also very common, although men will often refrain. Cheek kissing between men, however, is becoming more and more common, especially among young people. Two people introduced by a mutual friend may also give each other un bec.
Immigrant groups tend to have their own norms for cheek kissing, usually carried over from their native country. In Miami, Florida, an area heavily influenced by Latin American and European immigrants, kissing hello on the cheek is the social norm. In parts of New England influenced by Franco-American or French Canadian cultures, cheek kissing is popular.
In Latin America, cheek kissing is a universal form of greeting between a man and a woman or two women.
It is not necessary to know a person well or be intimate with them to kiss them on the cheek. In fact, when some Latin American people are introduced to someone new, they usually greet them with a cheek kiss if the person being introduced to them is a member of the opposite sex or two women. If the person is a complete stranger, no kissing is done. A cheek kiss can be accompanied by a hug or in more formal occasions a handshake.
As with other regions, cheek kissing may be lips-to-cheek or cheek-to-cheek with a kiss in the air, the latter being more common.
In the Southern Cone countries of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay it is common (almost standard) between male friends to kiss "a la italiana", i.e. football players kiss each other to congratulate or to greet.
As in Southern Europe, in Argentina and Uruguay men kissing men is common but it varies depending on the region, occasion and even on the family.
Cheek kissing is a standard greeting throughout Southern Europe between friends or acquaintances, but less common in professional settings. In general, men and women would kiss and women will kiss women. Men kissing men varies depending on the country and even on the family, in some countries (like Italy) men will kiss men; in others only men of the same family would consider kissing. It may also depend on the part of a country and the occasion.
Greece is an example of a country where cheek kissing highly depends on the region and the type of event. For example, in most parts of Crete, it is common between a man and a woman who are friends, but is very uncommon between men unless they are very close relatives. In Athens it is commonplace for men to kiss women and women to kiss other women in the cheek when meeting or departing. It is uncommon between strangers of any sex, and it may be considered offensive otherwise. It is standard for children and parents, children and grandparents etc., and in its "formal" form it will be two kisses, one on each cheek. It may be a standard formal form of greeting in special events such as weddings.
However, in Portugal and Spain, usually, men only kiss women (even with strangers, although in this case a handshake is more common). In Portuguese families men often kiss men, but the handshake is the most common salutation between them. However, men kissing may occur in Spain as well particularly when congratulating close friends or relatives. Cheek to cheek and the kiss in the air are also very popular. Hugging is common between men and men and women and women; when the other is from the opposite sex, a kiss may be added. In Italy (especially in the South or the Center) it is common for men to kiss men, especially relatives or friends.
In the former Yugoslavia, cheek kissing is also very commonplace, with your nationality being ascertainable by the number of kisses on each cheek. Typically, Croats and Bosniaks will kiss once on each cheek, for two total kisses, whereas Serbs (be they from Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia or Montenegro) will kiss three times, typically starting at the right cheek. In Serbia and Montenegro, it is also not uncommon for men to kiss each other on the cheek three times as a form of greeting, usually for people they have not encountered in a while, while male-female and female-female kissing is also standard.
In Bulgaria cheek kissing is practiced to a far lesser extent compared to ex-Yugoslavia and is usually seen only between very close relatives or sometimes between close female friends.
In France, where the custom is called "faire la bise", the cheek kiss came under scrutiny during the H1N1 epidemic of 2009. A popular French joke states that you may recognize the city you are in by counting the number of cheek kisses as it varies across the country. It is very common, in the southern parts of France, even between males, be them relatives or friends, whereas in the north, it is less usual for two unrelated males to perform 'la bise'.
In the Netherlands and Belgium cheek kissing is a common greeting between relatives and friends (in the Netherlands slightly more so in the south). Generally speaking, women will kiss both women and men, while men will kiss women but refrain from kissing other men, instead preferring to shake hands with strangers. In the Netherlands and the Dutch part of Belgium usually three kisses are exchanged. The same number of kisses is found in Switzerland. In Francophone Belgium, the custom is usually one or three kisses, and is also common between men who are good friends.
Although cheek kissing is not as widely practiced in the United Kingdom as in other parts of Europe, it is still commonplace. It is mostly used as a greeting and/or a farewell, but can also be offered as a congratulation or as a general declaration of friendship or love. Cheek kissing is acceptable between parents and children, family members (though not often two adult males), couples, two female friends or a male friend and a female friend. Cheek kissing between two men who are not a couple is unusual but socially acceptable if both men are happy to take part. Cheek kissing is associated with the middle and upper classes, as they are more influenced by French culture. This behaviour was traditionally seen as a French practice.
In the Philippines, cheek kissing or beso (also beso-beso, from the Spanish for "kiss") is a common greeting. The Philippine cheek kiss is a cheek-to-cheek kiss, not a lips-to-cheek kiss. The cheek kiss is usually made once (right cheek to right cheek), either between two women, or between a woman and a man. Amongst the upper classes, it is a common greeting among adults who are friends, while for the rest of the population, however, the gesture is generally reserved for relatives. Filipinos who are introduced to each other for the first time do not cheek kiss unless they are related.
In parts of Central, South, and East Asia with predominantly Buddhist or Hindu cultures, or in cultures heavily influenced by these two religions, cheek kissing is largely uncommon and may be considered offensive, although its instances are now growing.
Cheek kissing in the Arab world is relatively common, between friends and relatives. Cheek kissing between males is very common. However, cheek kissing between a male and female is usually considered inappropriate, unless within the same family; e.g. brother and sister, or if they are a married couple. Some exceptions to this are Lebanon and Syria and some of the more liberal Arab countries, where cheek kissing is a common greeting between unrelated males and females in most communities, and the Lebanese custom has become the norm for non-Lebanese in Lebanese-dominated communities of the Arab diaspora. Normally in Lebanon, the typical number of kisses is three: one on the left cheek, then right, and then left between relatives.
Cheek kissing in Turkey is also widely accepted in greetings. Male to male cheek kissing is considered normal in almost every occasion, but very rarely for men who are introduced for the first time. Some men hit each other's head on the side instead of cheek kissing, possibly as an attempt to masculinize the action. Cheek kissing between women is also very common, but it is also very rare for women who are introduced for the first time. A man and a woman could cheek kiss each other for greeting without sexual connotations only if they are good friends or depending on the circle, the setting, and the location like in big cities.
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