Sunday, January 07, 2007

Sunday scribblings--A Kiss is Just a Kiss

For today’s Sunday Scribblings, I wanted to write about the non-romantic kind of kissing. This kind of kiss inspires less poetry, less pre-adolescent giggling—John and Mary sitting in a tree, etc., etc.--but is just as important to us socially.
The social kiss can be an interesting phenomenon. Within the family it is part of the bonding ritual. There is the bedtime kiss for example. When I was growing up we did not kiss often. However, the bedtime kiss was important to us and we tried not to miss it as part of saying goodnight. I equated it in my childhood mind with a lesson I learned from Little Women. In the story, Jo exchanged harsh words with her sister Amy and then nearly lost her in a skating accident. (Please forgive me if I have misremembered a detail from the novel). The moral was not to let the sun go down on one’s anger. In my mind that became, do not miss the goodnight kiss.
We didn’t kiss much the rest of the time. My mother used to present a cheek to be kissed in a royal manner, or like a bishop presenting a ring to be kissed. It never occurred to me that other people didn’t kiss like this until my (paternal) grandmother tactlessly pointed out that I did the same, implying that I was somehow cold. Generally the rest of us only kissed for hellos and goodbyes after relatively long absences or when visiting relatives.
When I got married, I discovered that my in-laws are big kissers. They do the European style kissing on both cheeks and the men in the family have no inhibition about affectionately kissing each other. They responded to my learned reserve by grabbing me and kissing me, however I felt about it. I think they felt it was good for me.
Then there is kissing babies. It is nearly impossible not to kiss them. My younger son had the roundest little egg-head with only a tiny bit of fuzzy hair. It was my favorite part of him to kiss. Of course cheeks are pretty good too until adolescence hits and cheeks stop being smooth. I’m not a major kisser of baby toes and behinds but they are popular with some parents. I’m going to be quite sad when my younger son (9) stops having such soft skin on his cheeks.
We practice bedtime kisses in my family now. My older son, now 14, used to have a bedtime ritual. I would kiss him goodnight and tuck him in. As I left his room I would say “Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.” He then would follow with: “I love you, goodnight. I love you, goodnight.” Unfortunately he outgrew the ritual a couple of years ago but he likes to be tucked in and kissed goodnight. I still like to tell him not to let the bedbugs bite, but he has given up his response.
One form of social kissing I never quite figured out was French social kissing. This is the kissing friends on alternate cheeks thing. I could never decide which cheek one was supposed to start with and whether it was two or three kisses. This could result in some awkwardness. I also couldn’t figure out which people I knew socially got kisses and which didn’t. It was like learning which people got the informal “tu” form and which got the formal “vous” only there were grammar books to explain that.
One amusing bit of French culture was to watch a French student walk into class late and proceed to kiss all her friends on both cheeks. She’d go down the row kissing heedless of the fact that class had begun and the professor was already speaking. You’d have thought the kissing could be skipped out of respect, but then who was I, the foreign student, to know?
See how much fun kissing can be even without the romantic part? And this post is rated G, for General Audiences. Now if we were writing about how I learned about the other kind of kissing. . . .


Rethabile said...

I can identify with the awkwardness of French kissing (the one rated G): 2, 3 or sometimes even 4 times. it's funny when one person is a 3-er, and the other a 4-er, for example, and the 4-er is left hanging in mid-air.

In Lesotho, and especially in some families (mine for one), we kiss on the lips. I kiss my father and my brothers (and mum and sisters) on the lips. My children have come to accept it, too.

Nice post.

angela said...

We do the "bisous", the kissing thing (was about to write French kissing!) on entering and leaving a social gathering and it can take ages but I like it though I wish there was a rule to say which cheek first.
I like the enthusiastic approach of your in laws, sounds uninhibited!

Paris Parfait said...

The taking time with greetings/kisses in France is part of the generally more relaxed attitude to time than we have in the United States. There are advantages and disadvantages to this way of thinking. As for kissing babies, you're right - it's nearly impossible not to do so! They're so adorable!

Debo Blue said...

My family's a big kissing bunch of folks. We were brought up in a church that believed in greeting your brother with a holy kiss, so everyone was kissed on the lips 'til the girls grew breasts. Then just the cheek kiss.

I've never experienced the French-style of kissing though. Maybe I'll start the trend.

Helen said...

When the French Exchange students came over last year, it was quite strange to see them all walking around kissing each other all the time, because we certainly didn't do it! I don't know what we expected them to do, because we knew that the French kissed each other in greeting, but it was just different than the the norm, I suppose.
Nice topic!

Dani said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on kissing. My mom kissed us on the mouth, and I started doing the same with my kids. Somewhere along the way, however, they started turning their heads and offering a cheek instead. I'm not sure where they learned that.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I like the French habit of kissing but I have never worked out who deserves how many.

nessie said...

Hey I just wanted to let you know that I too am reading Kafka's Metamorphosis for the Classics challenge. In fact I posted up my post already... stop by and let me know what you thought about it when done. Good Luck with the challenges!

Tongue in Cheek Antiques said...

Each area in France has there number of kisses ..For example in Marseille it is two kisses, one kiss on each side. In Avignon, (an hours drive away,) it is three kisses. In Pau it is four.

Anyone under 18, kisses to greet and before they leave, to everyone they meet, men and women alike.

Kissing in France is like a handshake or hug in the States.