Like many old-world customs that have been carried into modern American life, cheek-kissing in this country lacks an essential element: codified ritual. We have no idea how or when to do it.
Other cultures have achieved consensus on a particular style, be it one, two or three (sometimes even four) kisses. But Americans are all over the place. We miss the mark and wind up grazing lips. We lean in for action but, sensing possible non-reciprocation, abruptly abort the mission. We change horses midstream, trading the kiss for a half-hearted hug, only to force the other party into a kiss-hug combo that really works only for mothers with small children and lovers saying goodbye at the airport.
Why not exchange the social kiss for its less threatening cousin, the double-grip handshake? Or the affectionate fist bump that Barack and Michelle Obama used to employ before the gesture was taken over by terrorists? Better yet, we could greet E.T.-style, touching index fingers and letting the love flow.
Granted, such substitutes might present their own quandaries: How long should the encounter last? What if you’re holding a drink and a cocktail plate? What if we are suddenly lifted into the air through the power of telekinesis?
But surely it beats a mouthful of ear wax.
So let’s kiss the social kiss goodbye. If you need one more reason, consider this: Each one takes a few seconds. Greet enough people at enough parties, and a kiss is no longer just a kiss. It’s a time suck.
Meghan Daum is an opinion columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Her most recent book is “Life Would Be Perfect if I Lived in That House.”
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