A friend of mine here in BA, also from the states, wrote me yesterday from Paraguay, where she’s currently traveling. “I cannot figure out when or how many times to kiss on the cheek,” she wrote, “and it is becoming disastrous!!”
In many countries, it’s two cheek kisses. In others, hugs. In yet others, it’s a handshake or nothing. Here in Argentina, like in many Latin American countries, it’s the one cheek kiss (beso) for hellos and goodbyes. And it’s all but a requirement. Arrive to your doctor? Beso. Business meeting? Beso. A party with friends and strangers. Besos. When, for instance, you arrive to a room and everyone is sitting around a table deep in conversation, everything pauses as you circle the table giving every single person a kiss on the cheek. Same thing happens when you leave. I couldn’t believe the first time I went to my insurance provider and the woman who attended to me kissed me! But I’ve come to love this ritual, to the point where I officially feel weird if I don’t give kisses. I really feel like I’ve adopted the Latino way when I kiss someone goodbye and then talk to them for so long that I have to kiss them again before I really leave!
The kissing even transfers into situations where you’re not present with the person. At the end of every phone call and email, kisses always. Te mando un beso. Un beso. Besos. Besito. Besote. Un beso enorme. One or all of the above (okay, never all of the above at one time). If you’re just getting to know the person you might start with a hug (Abrazo) or other warm salutation (Cariños), but within a few emails you’re virtually kissing no doubt.
I saw a news clip this morning of Obama greeting some of the world leaders gathered at the G-20 in Mexico. To Cristina Kirchner, Argentina’s President, he gave the normal Argentine greeting of one kiss on the cheek! How did he know, I wondered. And furthermore, does he keep tabs on all the kissing/hugging/handshaking rituals around the world? Impressive.
I’ll be back in the states in just a few days and I’m already fretting the awkward salutations that will ensue. So I’ve decided I’m going to try to maintain the one cheek kiss I’ve learned so well and learned to love. So pucker up, gringos!