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June 11, 2013

Killing me with kisses

In some countries, greeting friends with a kiss is the common custom. France, Italy, Greece and Hollywood come to mind. Not full-on, passionate kissing, but a quick buss on the cheek. First on one side, then the other. Men, women, it doesn’t matter. In some countries you have to do each cheek twice or you’ll deeply insult someone, and before you know it there’s a whole Hatfield-and-McCoy thing happening because you ignored a thousand-year-old custom.

The French sign letters between friends and family members, male or female, with “Big kisses.” They probably think we sign our letters with “Firm handshakes.” I grew up when we were a handshake nation. Of course, there was always one aunt who wanted to kiss me when I was small. She was from the “the old country,” my mother would tell me. For years, I thought that was the name of the place she was from, The Old Country. It was somewhere over the ocean, but I could never find the place on a map.

My mother was not a big kisser; my father was not a big hugger. They were not cold, unemotional people, it simply wasn’t the custom in our world at that time. It would have been way beyond my comfort zone if they had suddenly gone all touchy-feely on me. Dad’s greeting to almost all adults who visited our house was to offer them a beer. If he really liked you, he would pop the top before handing it to you.

Of course, everybody’s family has their own culture and traditions, and my family story may seem stiff compared to yours. But things have changed. Over the years we, too, have become a nation of kissers and embracers. Celebrities and socialites are famous for air kisses -- they never actually get close enough to muss up each other’s hair and makeup, or to see the scars from the most recent facelift.

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