Britain lacks agreed standards for social kissing. As a result people often embarrass themselves by trying to kiss someone who isn’t expecting it, or by avoiding a kiss that they did not realise was coming, or by dithering over whether someone should be kissed, or by keeping their distance in what might seem an unfriendly way.
I don’t know how social kissing is organised in countries where it is better established, but if people are going to do it they clearly need to agree in advance what rules apply. This, therefore, is my policy. I welcome any suggested changes or additions.
- I do not socially kiss men or children unless they offer to socially kiss me, in which case I’ll reciprocate.
- I socially kiss all women I know well but not others unless, likewise, they offer and I reciprocate.
- I socially kiss women when we meet by arrangement for a social occasion, but not when the meeting is coincidental or routine, such in a shop or at work. On other hand, if meeting immediately creates an impromptu social occasion, perhaps because it’s been a long time since our last meeting, a social kiss will be correct.
- When a social kiss is required, I kiss immediately on meeting. A parting kiss is only required if the meeting has lasted an hour or more.
- I do not socially kiss women when they are part of a group containing other women that I do not kiss, in order not to publicly emphasise the different strengths of our relationships. However I make exceptions when the difference is already obvious and accepted, such as when one woman has been a friend for years and I’ve never met the other.
- A social kiss consists of two kisses, one on each cheek in either order, although I will omit the second one if the person I’m kissing appears not to expect it. Otherwise a single kiss is only for close family.
- I do not socially kiss anyone, no matter how well I know them, if I have reason to believe they would not welcome it, perhaps for religious reasons.
- When I do not socially kiss, but the occasion is social or otherwise requires a physical greeting, I shake hands with adults or hug children. However I do not hug, kiss or shake hands with anyone if more than five people in immediate succession would require it, causing the gesture to lose its immediacy and seem onerous.