Greeting someone new has become a fairly complex issue, no matter what country you're in.
A kiss on the cheek? Left or right? Two kisses, one on either cheek? Three? How many cheeks have we got? A kiss on the lips? Really? No kisses, but a handshake? A bow? What angle? Greeting someone new has become a fairly complex issue, no matter what country you're in. I recently read of an initiative in Germany to stop people exchanging kisses in business situations as women were becoming uncomfortable with it, and it's not like the Germans have a tradition of such physical openness, is there? Mind you, I used to live in Japan, where personal space considerations mean a greeting does not involve any touching at all; in fact that goes for pretty much most situations, except sumo of course, which necessarily involves some form of bodily contact.
But I digress. I recently met a Scottish lady, the mother of a colleague's husband, who greeted me with an outstretched hand, which I unthinkingly ignored before planting a kiss on both of her cheeks. Not because I was making a statement, but because it's what I always do when I meet someone new. Have I always done it? Of course not, I'm English; a reserved and rather formal handshake is what I grew up with. But after living here for so long I now kiss people I don't know on a regular basis. And I must say it was fairly evident from the response of the lady in question that it wasn't what she'd expected.
The subject was brought up later on at our multicultural gathering purely because she found it all a bit strange to be kissed by total strangers, making the point that in London, where she now lives, she still shakes hands with people she's known for over twenty years. This led to a debate on the subject and the revealing of information such as the Russians kissing family and friends on the lips when they meet…surely not? I can't picture that at all…brother and sister? Or kissing your parents on the lips? I'd rather let that lie and come back to what I know, which is the tradition here of two kisses. And the truth is I've seen people from my native culture get a little steamed up about the whole thing, whether it's because they don't like doing it and find it intrusive, such as the case in question, or contrarily, because they take it as an invitation to get a bit personal with someone of the opposite sex, their eyes lighting up at the prospect of touching flesh with a stranger. Either way, I think it gives us a good idea of the gaping cultural differences between our respective cultures when it comes to physicality. Here in Catalonia you will give and receive two kisses on a regular basis and hey, guess what, it's nothing more than a friendly gesture of welcome or greeting, which means if you suffer from one of the two aforementioned reactions you basically need to chill out a bit.