Curbing the urge to kiss!

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Imagine this heart stopper.

I’m attending an outdoor festival on a hot and dusty day in Georgia when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw what appeared to be a drunken woman staggering toward me, arms outstretched, lips puckered, unmistakably intent on planting an old-fashioned “peck on the cheek” — my cheek, that is.

And in public no less and at a park filled with people chomping away on roast turkey legs and candy cotton. Red, green and yellow heads of hair, short guys on tall stilts, Irish folk music, beer guts, beer bottles and pee soaked portable toilets dotted the landscape.

Now accelerating my anxiety attack was a sudden realization that there was a hard charging fellow on my right, her partner; he too clearly inebriated, and bent on planting a kiss on my other cheek.

So in a split second I sized up the situation, the setting, who was present and my comfort level with the two kisses that were a moment away from landing.

Hey, I can “see” a lot of you nodding out there. This situation resonates, huh? Chances are that you too have cornered by an unwanted kisser, or two.

The origins of ‘osculating’

Also known as “osculating,” kissing remains one of the most prevalent yet complex interpersonal behaviors in which humans engage. And its meaning plays out differently across cultural lines.

Although kissing is often a source of awkwardness, it is universally considered a sign of affection. In the United States kissing someone on the cheek is a form of greeting that usually only happens between good friends and rarely between two men. But in other cultures these behaviors are just part of friendly protocol. A kiss or hug from an international counterpart generally means you are officially being welcomed and has no more significance than a handshake.

Nevertheless, discomfort with kissing does prevail in some circles. Smooching one or both cheeks can be discombobulating in a society where the impersonal handshake or even the distant nod is the most familiar, journalist Elizabeth Olson wrote in a New York Times article. To support her point, she described an awkward situation brought to her attention about a Manhattan lawyer being introduced to a more senior lawyer at a dinner party.

“I went for a peck on the right cheek, but he was zooming in from the left,” the junior lawyer explained to her. “And I literally crashed into his teeth.”

Olson points out that no one seems to know the origins of the displacement of the handshake with social kissing in American business and social circles. Is it attributable to a growing Latin influence, an aping of European manners, the influx of women in the workplace or just a plain break of informality? Who knows?

Global  smooching

Research suggests that kisses on the cheek as salutations are traditional in many parts of Europe and Latin America, for example, and the number of kisses depends on which region. So there’s a good chance that you may be kissed and hugged in Russia. In much of the Muslim world same-gender kissing is the norm. In the United Arab Emirates men will kiss other men three or four times on the cheeks. In Saudi Arabia, a male guest may be kissed on both cheeks after shaking hands. In France you may see people kissing alternate cheeks — four kisses in all — starting with one on the left cheek, then another on the right cheek, and so on.

In the Netherlands you may see three kisses starting on either cheek. In Belgium, you’re apt to see one to three kisses, depending upon age. In Germany, you probably won’t see a lot of kissing, just handshaking. But generally, in Europe kissing occurs only after the relationship has become more personal. We also need to be mindful that the kiss does not exist in all cultures, as certain cultures find it repugnant.

Curbing kissing

All right, you can’t handle this kissing stuff? OK, don’t worry. You’re not alone. What you really want is a way to ward off the hard-charging kisser — something quick, practical, face-saving and effective, right? Help is on the way. Read on.

Start with understanding. There are lots of things worse than being kissed by someone. The gesture is a sign that you’re special, and what’s so bad about that? Plus, a well-meaning kiss is not life-threatening. I’m still waiting for someone to whisper in my ear at Old Amos’ funeral that he “got killed by a kiss!”

So if your oncoming osculator is a visitor from a culture different than yours — or anyone else for that matter — consider presenting your cheek and accepting the gesture in the spirit in which it is offered, nothing more. Come on now, think about it. There are more important things to worry about, right?

On the other hand, if you’re from a “kissing culture” or you’re overcome by an urge to plant one on someone not that close to you, keep in mind that not everyone will welcome the onrush of your puckered lips when a handshake will do. The safest bet in the U.S. is not to go kissing up on those you don’t know that well unless they first take the initiative.

Still shaking your head about all this kissing stuff? Given a choice, you would just as well stop Sir Missile Mouth dead in his tracks prior to his lips settling on your cheek, right? Well, rather than manufacturing halitosis or making a mad dash to the nearest exit, try the old-fashioned “stiff-arm.”

“The stiff arm kept me at bay more than a few times,” shared a good friend. “One person in particular stiff-armed me on separate occasions with an accompanying, “Oops, I’ve got a terrible cold!” I finally got the message the last time after stealing a look over my shoulder and discovering how quickly the Kleenex tissues disappeared and the coughing ceased right after I moved to another corner in the room. Duh!”

Here’s how the stiff-arm technique works. Just lean your upper torso away from the hard-charger while extending your hand, in handshake position — elbow locked firmly — as far as you can toward the person when you sense that he/she is about to descend on you. It’s as simple as that. It minimizes awkwardness on both sides and, above all, it works.

Now push back from your chair or, better still, stand up and practice your stiff-arm a few times before “going live.”

Oh, yeah, the outcome of my two pursuing kissers? Well, under the glares of laughing onlookers, and a flashing camera held by my sister-in-law, I just closed my eyes, gritted my teeth, and let the two kissers kiss!

(c) Terry Howard is an award-winning writer, speaker and story-teller who revels, reads and writes in Douglasville, Georgia. He can be reached at

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