At one point or another in our lives, we will have had a greeting go horrifically wrong. We've all been there, you see someone you don't know that well at the party, you know you need to greet them and so you enthusiastically lean in to partake in the 'two kiss' ritual. This is what you trained for, this is why your parents dragged you to all of those parties, this is the polite way to greet someone. You feel confident, you feel grownup, and then. And then you see your hopes and dreams crumble around you as you feel the outstretched hand of your acquaintance being enveloped by your stomach rolls. They went for the handshake. That crushing feeling, as your cheeks burn red and the ground takes a little bit too long to swallow you up, is a feeling that we all know. I have felt it, and I have watched it.
I'm a two kiss kind of gal. Always have been. As a woman it has always been rare for people to shake my hand, one kiss always felt too brief and a hug seems much too intimate, as a result I landed at a kiss on either cheek. Not everyone though, thinks like I think. If they did, the nightmare that was 'saying hello' to someone, wouldn't be nearly as stressful as it is.
The idea for this piece came to me after a good friend practically begged me to write it. Arriving at the pub a couple of weeks ago this friend grabbed me by the arm and dragged me outside. "Oh my god, I've just had THE most awkward hello with your old flatmate's boyfriend. I went for the two kisses and he went for one and we genuinely nearly kissed. I want to die. Please write about this I can't be the only one who this has happened to..." "No Sophs", I reassured her, "you're most definitely not."
The amount of times I have gone to hug someone and ended up trapping them as they tried to lean back to go for the second kiss I can't even remember. Equally the amount of times I have gone to kiss someone for the second time when they weren't expecting it and basically kissed them full on the mouth is uncountable, this happened last Thursday as a matter of fact. I've watched it happen too. Bumping into a friend out for dinner last year I thought I would introduce the girl I was with to the guy I had just seen. She, a bottle of wine in, went for the hug, he, at dinner with his family, stuck his hand out. This is a moment that lives on in all of our memories as one of the most mortifying moments. Ever. EVER. (Not least of all because my friend did not see the hand in her stomach as a reason to stop the hug and with the enthusiasm with which she grabbed him, she probably risked spraining his wrist...)
So what is the etiquette? Who is in the wrong here? And most importantly, why are we all unable to sing from the same hymn sheet where the simple act of saying hello is concerned? Of all the things we have to deal with in our lives, why is this among the most stressful?
A little bit of research and an awful lot of thinking has lead me to the following conclusions:
If you are in a work environment and greeting people that you have a) never met before b) only ever seen at work then GO FOR THE HANDSHAKE. If you are meeting the same people outside of the office then I can't help you, perhaps judge it on familiarity or just follow their lead, I'd say a kiss can't hurt but for godsake gauge the damn room.
If you meet someone in a social situation I would suggest going for the amount of kisses that you are most comfortable with. From body stance it should be fairly obvious if your acquaintance is a one or two kiss kind of person so you'll probably need to gauge that as and when. Either way I would consider a party to probably be too formal for a handshake, unless it's a work do in which case I am confused again. The ONLY time I would say to absolutely not go for two kisses with someone is if you are in Tibet, as they commonly greet people by sticking their tongues out at one another, I don't need to explain why a miscommunication here could be mortifying. Whatever you do though, in any situation, it is VITAL that you keep your hands above waist height, in a confused moment it is all too easy to accidentally brush up against something that you definitely don't want to be brushing.
For some reason, greeting people can be an utterly confusing and totally overwhelming thing to do. For a lot of us it can actually be something that causes us to lose sleep and hate social engagements and, although that seems ridiculous, I totally understand it.
So, for anyone who has ever totally humiliated themselves during a casual hello, which is, let's face it, all of you, I have one vital piece of advice for you: do whatever you are going to do, with confidence. If you go for the two kisses where they only go for the one, explain it IMMEDIATELY. My latest thing is to declare it the second the red flag appears: "Oh God sorry I can't get enough, I'm a two kisser!" - so far this has gone down fairly well. If they go for the two when you only go for the one, apologise straight away: "oh so rude of me I'm sorry, why is saying hello so hard?!" - look you're relatable, hopefully they will get it and a conversation can commence. And where the handshake/kiss situation is concerned there is only one thing for it: LAUGH. Laugh at yourself, laugh at them, laugh like you've never laughed before.
Unfortunately, it seems, I do not have all the answers. Apparently nobody does as this is something that seems to happen a LOT. But if twenty odd years of social faux pas have taught me anything, it's that all you really need to get you through, is confidence.