The cheek of social kissing

PUCKER UP: US President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard kiss hello in Australia last November.
PUCKER UP: US President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard kiss hello in Australia last November.

Looming lips can leave some people anxious for lots of reasons: To kiss or not to kiss? Is it OK to kiss a co-worker? Do you go left or right? Does a kiss on both cheeks cross the line?

The answer to the vexed issue of which cheek to kiss? We drive on the left, so move to the left to plant your kiss, says etiquette expert Alex Frampton.

She says the greeting kiss should be reserved for people you really care for, like family and close friends.

Ms Frampton, who runs corporate training business A Matter of Style, said she had seen the kiss on the cheek sneaking into everyday life over the last five years, particularly among groups of young women.

"I think it's gone crazy.

"But it isn't actually the normal way to greet someone because kissing someone and getting into that personal space, that close to somebody, can be very confronting."

A firm handshake is the best way to greet someone you don't know well or when you meet someone for the first time, she said.

"You get the eye contact and you get the smile.

"It's respectful, it's courteous; you've got that absolute proper connection."

But the greeting kiss should never cross over into your professional world, Ms Frampton said.

"I think you can get yourself in all sorts of trouble. I think I'd err on the side of caution.

"Even if a person walks in the room and you know them and you're in a corporate situation, you don't kiss them.

"Otherwise people in the room will [think] any decision you make may be ... because you've got a personal interest."

Some may point to the influence of western European culture, but even they have trouble navigating the politics of the kiss.

Last year an etiquette society in Germany called for a ban on kissing in the workplace.

The Knigge Society chairman Hans-Michael Klein said they received regular complaints about workplace kissing and the group wanted to protect those who didn't want to be kissed.

"So we are suggesting that if people don't mind it, they announce it with a little paper message placed on their desk," Mr Klein told the BBC.

He said a survey by the society found: "Most people said they didn't like it. They feel there is somehow an erotic aspect to it - a form of body contact which can be used by men to get close to a woman."

Even the French - famous for always greeting each other with kisses - can get confused about how many times to kiss someone.

A map, created on the back of 18,000 online votes, showed people in the north kiss each other four times, people in the southeast kiss three times and people almost everywhere else kiss two times.

Associate Professor Penny Russell of Sydney University pointed to etiquette manuals showing kisses used as a greeting by teenage girls in the late 19th century in England and Australia.

"The general tendency of etiquette advice was to suggest that people should be sparing in their physical gestures of intimacy and affection, because otherwise these would lose significance.

"...Social kissing was seen as turning a significant gesture of affection and intimacy into a meaningless requirement."

Ms Frampton said the same principle was relevant more than a century later.

"You might meet someone at a party and you start to talk and you think 'oh I really like this person'.

"At the end of that afternoon, you might kiss them goodbye and that sort of indicates 'I really had a nice time, I really liked meeting you'.

"I think those things, if we lose them, if everything becomes just something you do standard, when does something become special?

"When does it have a real meaning?"


* Save kisses for your friends and family.

* Don't kiss your co-workers.

* Approach from the left to kiss the right cheek.

* If you see someone approaching you to kiss, put your hand out for them to shake instead.

* Shake hands with the majority of people you meet.

* For a good handshake, put your palm and thumb out straight so your hands connect well.

"It's nice to be firm. There's nothing worse than a little weak handshake," Ms Frampton said.

"It's far more relevant than a kiss, you'll get much better result out of a good handshake and good eye contact and a smile, than a little kiss on the cheek.

"It makes much more of an impression than someone who just stands there and says 'hello'."