Friday, 5 January 2007

Understanding Argentina – Kissing

I haven’t been to every place on the planet but I still think I can safely say that nowhere on earth is there as much kissing between people as in Buenos Aires. It’s impossible for anywhere else to beat because everybody does it here. They’re not discerning, they kiss family, close friends, friends, strangers, in fact anyone close enough to be in kissing distance, and always on one cheek, not the French or Brazilian model of between one and three, depending on who it is you’re kissing.

It is quite difficult for me to adapt to this, especially when it comes to kissing the men. I don’t know how long I’ll have to stay in Buenos Aires until kissing men on the cheek seems like the natural thing to do. It sure doesn’t at the moment. It just doesn’t feel right. Men have beards or stubble and even moustaches, and feel all wiry and prickly and scratchy on your cheek. It’s horrible! I don’t know how girls put up with kissing a hairy man once, never mind every time they meet one. It makes me shiver to have a big Walrus tache tickling my face and ear, in much the same way as having a big cockroach running across my hand does.

I’m never sure whether to air-kiss people like a sweetie from Absolutely Fabulous, or to plant my lips on their cheeks like a vacuum cleaner on a curtain. But people here do seem to connect with their kisses, so I go with that one normally. Even with the men.

I think I could live in Buenos Aires until the ice-caps melt and still not get used to kissing men when I meet them. I still find myself doing it though, however awkwardly, even with non-Argentineans who understandably don’t want me lunging at them. Then I’m left pouting at fresh air in the middle of the street.

When you meet people you know in the street, the kissing starts to get a bit tiresome. If you only want to say a quick hello, it takes ten minutes to do it. You say hello, do the round of cheeks, say a few words, then go around again. I’m glad I don’t know many people to bump into in the city. Parties are a nightmare though. I once arrived at a house party, spent three hours being introduced to every man, woman and dog in the house, waiting for them to get up from their chairs, or to pause in their conversations or dancing to kiss me. After I’d finished 73 people, two dogs, and a spider, it was halfway through the night. I thought I’d better leave by midday so I started to go around again immediately after I’d finished saying hello. Next time I’m going to do both at the same time. Then I can enjoy the fiesta. But for now I’ll continue to feel confused and awkward with it all. How do you act? If you live in a house with Argentineans, do you kiss them every morning? And when they get home from work? And when they go to bed, like children? And when they get back from the toilet or from answering the door or when they come back from the kitchen with the coffees? It’s all too demonstrative for me. I’m English. It isn’t that I don’t like showing my feelings; it’s just that I don’t have any feelings to show. The only feeling all this kissing leaves me with is a desire to shave far more often.


Anonymous said...

I understand for your post that you don’t speak Spanish. Kissing is not as widespread as you write, unless it seems nobody told you otherwise. You are not expected to kiss people you don’t know, unless they are your friends friend, and even though, its ok to shake hands.
You are not supposed to kiss men that are neither relatives, not friends. Not only that, elder people is not used to kisses as much as young people, simply because the “kiss the friend” custom began in the mid of the ‘80s, when democracy –an relaxation of stiff customs- began. When you arrive to a party, you don’t have to kiss everyone, you were mistaken. You are only expected to kiss –because they are all suppose to be someone’s friend- the people you are introduced to by name. And if they introduced you to all the crowd, they were treating you as a sort of a zoo creature. When you leave a crowded party is a sign of good education to say “good bye” to everybody just with your hand up, not at all to kiss everybody. You can also just kiss goodbye just the host, and not even bother to kiss anyone else, unless you ended up bonding deeply with somebody, that is, someone you already look as a new friend, weather its he or she.
You, being foreigner, will not be expected to kiss other guy, no matter what. Unless you get familiar –that is, you see the person often and get along very well, and he is not your coworker- and you show up to be willing to do so. The kiss thing is a message that says “hallo, everything is all right, I am comfortable and I trust you”. If it get awkward to you, its gonna make he/she very unpleased, so it’s better just to shake hands, or even just to say hallo.
Saludos desde Buenos Aires

Mark said...


Thanks for posting!
It's 04:15 in the morning and I just had to laugh when I read your story. I hope I didn't wake up my flatmate.

Yes, Argentinians kiss a lot, especially in Buenos Aires.
I find it quite nice, although you're right, one needs some getting used to.

Saludos de un indonesio. ;)