Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Sunday, 2 October 2011

One way out: a coughing fit

Social kissing: it’s a gender conundrum, a class thing and a north-south divide thing. In the US, the world’s kissingest country, my West Riding upbringing was a millstone which left me confused, terrified. Since terror still surfaces – at age 76 – I will go to my grave bedevilled by uncertainty.

Emerging from a Continental Trailways bus in Pittsburgh in late December 1965 I knew all about real kissing. It was a publically permissible analogy for sex. I didn’t need to understand it because I’d been married five years. Immediately, and for the six years that followed, American women social-kissed me. Some I disliked (which isn’t to say they were unattractive) and this presented problems. Some I liked which raised even bigger problems.

It’s odious to explain why so I’ll resort to examples. Mrs Thatcher was thought to have sex appeal (by Alan Clark among others) but I’d have fainted had she approached me. If Vera Farmiga appeared willing I’d also faint – this time out of presumption. Putting it delicately, social kissing is lose-lose.

In Bradford the lower middle classes (my lot) didn’t do it; those higher up did it a bit. The Home Counties did it more. A callow youth, informed only by movies, about to be social-kissed, was entitled to ask how this fitted in with closeness being regarded as a good thing.

Have I betrayed those women who have social-kissed me? No. I’m gratified they were prepared to try: good sports. Etiquette has to be the reason, there can’t be other benefits. I’ve also sympathised with women who actively avoid social-kissing me. I admire their toughness. No hint I might do the initiating. I’m a Bradford Grammar School old boy. Hand-shaking I do.

Pic note: Not social kissing but she looks like Stephanie Flanders


The Crow said...

Is social kissing that thing where people put their faces close to one another and kiss the air, or is it actual physical contact? Then, if it is actual contact, are we talking a brief kiss on the cheek, or quick labial(lips) contact?

I may wish to rejoin the human race someday and knowing the answer to these questions might save me tons of embarrassment, you know?

Hand-to-hand contact works for me, too. Oh! Where do you stand on hugs?

Barrett Bonden said...

The Crow: Congratulations on being Works Well's rapid response team. I shan't wait until there's an accumulation I shall answer you immediately, even though it's five minutes out of Blest Redeemer.

Those close-but-no-cigar kisses are, I think, called air kisses. Alternatively Phwah kisses. They truly are pointless and their practitioners would be better off picking up litter. The social-kissing I'm referring to involves contact and the nearer it gets to the lips the more it approximates to a real kiss and an overt statement about what's going on in the kisser's mind.

The American women, bless them, only did contact. And of course they weren't selective - they did it to all the surrounding men too. But I have to say it was alarming. For me these kisses arrived with an implicit statement: I am allowing my lips to come into contact with your face despite the fact that you are European and are therefore prone to lower hygiene standards. Kissing you makes me feel brave.

And they were brave. I wouldn't have kissed me if I'd been a healthy, fresh-faced US woman with superb orthodontics. During six years in the US I never showered, but did take occasional baths.

Shaking hands with American women was fraught with misunderstanding. The female hand had to be proffered first.

Hugs. If there is an emotional intensity to a social kiss then hugging augments it. However, a kissless hug is generally reserved for someone who has successfully survived surgery or a baseball bat attack.

Welcome back to the human race. You've hardly been away.

Rouchswalwe said...

Refusing to social kiss a friend's recently acquired boyfriend once led to a breaking of the friendship. He was a short little man whose googly eyes fixed on my Germanic assets the first several times we met, so each time I stuck out my hand to avoid the (for me) uncomfortable closeness which would have resulted due to our differences in height. After my third or fourth such avoidance, my friend attacked me for being unfriendly towards her new boyfriend. One argument led to another and over a few short months, the friendship ended. There you have it.

herhimnbryn said...

I never know which cheek to kiss first. Left or right? Being English (with a bit of Welsh thrown in), I tend to only kiss family and close friends, everyone else gets a handshake. Living in Australia, I have become a little more relaxed as some people seem taken aback by a handshake.

Barrett Bonden said...

RW (zS): So your German assets are available for public viewing (decently clothed of course) but unavailable for snuffling in - especially by googly-eyed shorties. Sounds reasonable to me. I think it was good riddance to your friend - I mean how much sharing did she demand? There are limits and by sticking to a sturdy handshake your honour has remained inviolate.

HHB: You are not alone. TV coverage of EU heads-of-state meetings shows lots of false starts when it comes to cheek selection and there are going to be more now that the Danes appear to be on the verge of voting a smashing blonde communist as prime minister.

I see the Oz people continue to get it wrong or to be confused in matters of etiquette. The Kiwis are much more forward and much of my social-kissing (that's in the passive mode) has been done in NZ.

Tom said...

On Kissing:

I could not agree more BB with your opening sentence about social kissing, except that in my experience some development might be worth noting.

When Lucy and I first moved to France it was expected that one kissed people twice on both cheeks. Imagine now being invited to drinks with about 25 or more other people, in a crowded room, and being expected to partake in a group snog. Unless the ladies were rather attractive, time dragged! Occasionally, I lost count and rather than disappoint anyone.........it was a very thirsty experience I can tell you. Fortunately, the men didn't insist on anything other than a shaking of the hands. And they didn't hold on for too long. I recall one young, rather elegant Parisian lady I met at such a gathering. As she did the rounds she quite pointedly indicated that the current fashion was one kiss only. I do so hate being manipulated. Thus it was that when she leaned over me to collect my dues, I simply shook hands with her - much to her surprise. Well a little discomfit is good for the soul.

As for mwah, mwah I have no time for that. Deal with reality I say and kiss properly if in an appropriate manner. Life has a sufficiency of illusion without pretending that kissing air is anything other than a totally fatuous exercise.

And then there are children to consider. French people seem to kiss all children of both genders, a child being defined, apparently, as being aged 0 to 19. For me, if I can lift a child by a pair of tongs and momentarily immerse it in disinfectant - especially the least developed of the species - then I might deign to kiss its forehead. There are some little girls that are seemingly knowing beyond their years. Avoid, avoid! Another type high on the avoidance list is the elderly French peasant woman who thinks this may be her last and best chance of a grope in the clinch. There are limits after all.

Finally on the question of kissing, and this question needs to be considered further under hugging, I have no objection to socially kissing our female friends, one kiss per cheek. Occasionally one meets someone with enthusiastic tendencies, and I feel such tendencies should be responded to with similar enthusiasm. One would not wish to hurt one's friend's feelings. On the other hand, if the lady of one's acquaintance is heavy on face powder, ensure a suitable wash basin is within reach. Then there is the attractive woman who eyes you up and down, grins, and launched herself at you. In these extreme survival conditions I can only recommend submission and an understanding wife.

On Hugging:

Hugging can have its problems also. In addition to my experiences given above, which often involve both kissing and hugging, usually of close friends and in-laws, there is the problem of what do you do with your hands when not in a close clinch. Do you put your hands behind you and simply lean forwards, hoping the woman doesn't take advantage of your gentlemanly vulnerability and decide to ape an old French peasant woman? And there is also a risk on occasions of losing one's balance and - as the Bible puts it - fall upon her neck. Yes, that has happened. Do you on the other hand grasp the situation with both hands and trap her arms at her side? There are advantages to that technique. Yes BB, social kissing and hugging can be lose-lose - but perhaps the practice needs further experimentation.

RW: I was overwhelmed at the poignancy of the situation you described. So sad! If there is ever any likelihood of our meeting, you must tell me how tall you are. With the passing years, my height has become a little less, alas, and one would wish to limit any damage, both to and by, gently inflicted by 'German assets'. (Wonderful expression!)

Barrett Bonden said...

Tom: You were wise to confine this avalanche of experience to Works Well rather than Box Elder; BE has three times the readership. I mention this just in case, in the fulness of time, you regret being so generous. Not that I'm complaining you understand.

I note that you hate being manipulated which is a pity. Now that I have your number I had in mind to test you out with other related subjects. But I must be careful not to drain you dry. It is clear that time you might have spent blogging is being devoted to your memoirs for which I shall be glad to pay good money.

I note too we are separated by an enormous gulf of confidence; I rhapsodise about stuffed cabbage whereas you practise (in the Shakespearean sense) on autocratic Parisiennes. One of us, it seems, is batting .201 in the bush leagues. Perhaps I read more books.

I question your restrictive behaviour towards "elderly French peasant women". Remember 1 Corinthians 13.13 "And now abideth faith, hope and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." For the pleasures of osculation are not limited to the physical world; on dark winter nights as you sip a glass of sloe gin (I can recommend a supplier) there's enormous pleasure to be had from realising you're being gossiped about. In gossip your stature will grow exponentially.

Children - tongs. You've said all that needs to be said.

As to deciding on a use for your hands, simply take thought for the morrow. A man blessed with such a louche quiff, sedulously cropped for drop-down appeal, can't be lacking in recommendations. It is said that women who work in the boulangerie are free with their advice even though it is almost always negative. I prefer those Fabergê egg faces in the pharmacie where contempt arrives with every ethical drug

Rouchswalwe said...

Tom and BB! I sometimes wonder whether my ex-friend is still with the Frogman, as I dubbed him. Perhaps my social kiss would have released him from the curse he was so obviously suffering from and a handsome prince would have popped out, hopefully taller than my 177 centimeters. Then again, I doubt it. As Tom put it so well, "a little discomfit is good for the soul."

If the fates are kind, we will all meet in person one day. As Gypsy Rose Lee said, "I have everything I had twenty years ago, only it's all a little lower." So depending on your heights at the time we meet, I can wear a Dirndl or not. We'll make adjustments, since hugs will be called for! I'll bring an ale cask along, too!

Plutarch said...

It seems that there is little to add to this discussion except the technique of engaging in the social kiss, its timing and choice of left or right. Experienced kissers seem to have developed a sense of what to do and when and how to do it - a bit like dancing I suppose. In my case, especially when encountering an even less experienced social kisser than I,
heads tend to wag, and there is risk of collision of noses, in risk of being mistaken for a social habit I believe highly developed among Maoris.

Rouchewalwe might have saved her friendship by manoeuvring the young man on to a stair or herself on to a lower level before the greeting took place. Alteratively in a gesture of jovial bonhomie she could have combined her embrace with a deft hoisting action placing him finally on a table or shelf where upon the two-cheek peck would seem a natural and amiable conclusion to the encounter.

Hattie said...

Don't come to Hawaii unless you are prepared to deal with big hugs and kisses.

Rouchswalwe said...

Plutarch! Where were you when I needed such solid advice?!