Time to lighten up – thanks to Malaysian for the prompt.
We’ve all been there, in close proximity to another human who may or may not require kissing and all your brain can do is go through the thousands of possible permutations leaving your body language caught somewhere between indifference and rapturous slobbering.
Who are we supposed to kiss, what kind of kiss and how many – even after so many years I’m still confused but here we attempt to shed a little light (Polandian speak for more questions than answers) on the arcane world of Polish kiss-greeting.
On the face of it it should be easy to work out, right? Family members get a big kiss, friends get a small one, acquaintances get a handshake, strangers get nothing. Job done, sorted, but it is so much more subtle than that. There are more layers to it, variations on a theme – is the kissee old or young, what’s the occasion, how good a friend are they, are they kissy people themselves, who makes the approach, who to kiss first (in a group situation), what style of kiss is appropriate, what if the kissee has a beard or Herpes?
It wouldn’t be so bad if an inappropriate kiss-greeting was a trifling faux pas that wouldn’t be noticed or talked about but this is serious stuff. A poor kiss-greet is about as unnoticeable as saying “Wow, you’re much older than I imagined!” when being introduced to the Queen.
One of the easier things to pin down is the number of kisses. Unlike certain Mediterranean types, the official Polish kiss-greet consists of three kisses. I don’t know whether this should be left-right-left or right-left-right nor even if the sides matter. With me it’s purely a matter of logistics and there are even times when I do three on the same side all at once, babcia usually. Go on, arrest me!
The only other variation is the single kiss and it’s kind of difficult to work this one out. Is one kiss reserved for people you know well, there’s an implied three kisses but we’ll stick to one to save time and be cool? Or is one kiss essentially an economy class kiss-greet and reserved for people who don’t warrant the full three? In my experience it can be just a case of saving time and it can be more of a friends thing but the safest option is always to pucker up for three and see how it goes.
An alternative tactic is to give one kiss and then withdraw, but not retreat. This gives you the option of mounting a second attack if required or alternatively to go into full retreat. There is much written about this, for example in Wikipedia:
A withdrawal is a type of military operation, generally meaning retreating forces back while maintaining contact with the enemy. A withdrawal may be undertaken as part of a general retreat, to consolidate forces, to occupy ground that is more easily defended, or to lead the enemy into an ambush. It is considered a relatively risky operation, requiring discipline to keep from turning into a disorganized rout.
As they say, this does require a great deal of discipline to avoid the kiss-greet turning into a disorganized rout with the couple pecking at each other like rabid hens until they just give up and shuffle off to stroke the cat.
Irrespective of the number of kisses, what about the technique itself. I think here we have a couple of points – contact and noise. If contact is required then you either go in with lips blazing or you go for a glancing blow, more of a cheek stroke than a kiss. Where are you aiming for? Probably not the lips but are we square in the centre of the cheek, more toward the ear or closer to the mouth? If contact is only optional then you can avoid contact completely but I expect in these cases the noise factor is going to be more important. In the no-contact version it also helps to keep saying things like “Darling!”.
Finally you have the issue of who gets a kiss, who doesn’t and who gets the “Yo Bro!” back-slap, shoulder-butt thing. This is by far the tangliest web of them all and I confess to be in dire need of a lifeboat here. My advice is to take your cue from others (and to hope that there are others). I’ve been caught out both ways, extended a hand and then had to keep leaning into it to morph gracefully into a kiss-greet and equally often overcome by that awkward realisation that you’re the only one in the room who’s trying to kiss everyone.
In conclusion, I think there is no right answer. Official form is – approach, plant three on the cheeks and retire – but there are so many accepted variations as to make this useless as anything other than a back-up plan. I wish you the best of luck with your kiss-greets and remember, whatever you decide to do, be confident and do it with style!