“To find a prince, you got ta kiss a lot of toads….”
– Zsa Zsa Gabor
Soviet President, Leonid Brezhnev, kissing East German President, Erich Honecker (circa 1975). Note the way their eyes are shut, like they are in ecstasy.
The first time a woman came up and kissed me on the cheek was after I left India and came to settle in Canada. It was Maria from our shipping department and it was the last day at work before the Christmas break – a day when everyone goes around kissing everyone else.
At first she hesitated – they mistake all Asians to be a bit Muslimish – but after an instant I could see her saying to herself, ‘Oh, well, what the hell, here goes…’ and she reached up and planted a kiss on my cheek. I remember feeling a delicious tingle run down my spine and settle close to the end of my alimentary canal.
Cheek kissing between men and women – as a form of greeting – is du jour in the west. But only between men and women. This may be French-speaking Quebec but it’s still Anglo-Saxon North America. Men don’t kiss men here as a Christmas greeting, even on the cheek.
About hugging, that’s something you don’t just go out and do, even as a Christmas greeting. North Americans zealously guard their personal space and a hug is considered a breach of that space. Therefore, unless you are family or close relative or friend or someone a cousin has a crush on, don’t hug. Bear hugs? Absolute no nos. Wish the Indian Prime Minister would take this advice and stop giving other heads of state his signature bear hugs. They fool no one and make everyone cringe.
In the two decades that I have been here in Canada, I must have been kissed by (or taken the initiative and kissed) a million women, give or take. Again, on the cheek every time of course. But I have a male colleague, Kenny, who has this ‘what the fuck, life is short’ philosophy. He has perfected a Christmas-kiss-at-work that can skirt the corner of the lips and if he is really lucky, land full on the lips. He calls it the ‘righty-tighty maneuver’.
Here’s what he does – when he senses that the woman is an inch away from his cheek, he turns his head, pretending as if he just noticed someone behind her wanting to talk to him. If all the stars are aligned, momentum (mass x velocity) ensures her forward motion and his lips get to brush hers. Chances are, it being Christmas and all, she won’t notice the intent or even if she does, she’ll let it be. Kenny is a piece of work, he is.
I have never been kissed by another man anywhere in North America, though I have been serial kissed (or maybe gang-kissed) and hugged by men – by male members of my Iranian in-laws’ family and their relatives, in Iran. Always on the cheeks of course, on both cheeks.
Europe is great for kissing. Men are kissing men and women in greeting, with abandon. Christmas in Europe is a kiss fest. If you venture south, the whole Italy/ Sicily/ Malta/ Corsica region is a giant kissathon. Over there you kiss three times – once on every cheek alternately. If you are saying goodbye after a Christmas lunch in say Sicily and the family is large, it takes so long, you might as well stick around, because you’ll be just a wee bit early for next year’s Christmas lunch.
The land of my birth, India, is freaky. Over there you’ll see men – heterosexual men – walking hand in hand or with their arms round each other’s waists in public, but you won’t find a man and a woman doing the same thing. That’s taboo. (And it isn’t even Christmas).
Honestly, I never batted an eyelid when I used to see the above, while in India. In all probability those men are heterosexual. They just have this need to express their intimacy as being good friends. In the west they would be stereotyped as being gay.
But the freakiest of all are the kisses that Soviet bloc leaders schlooped each other with. Check out the photo in the beginning of this piece. That’s a kiss between the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev and the East German President, Erich Honecker, sometime in the mid-1970s. If you google this you’ll find almost all Soviet bloc leaders smooching each other with abandon. Of course, those kisses were a show of ‘socialist solidarity’.
So, given it is Christmas, if you are in a situation where a woman is approaching to kiss you, I hope you will enthusiastically adopt Kenny’s docking sequence – the ‘righty-tighty maneuver’.