She sits by the piano. With a wistful look in her eye, she begs, “Play it, Sam.”
Sam finally hits the ivories and croons, “You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss…”
Wait, stop. A kiss is not just a kiss.
Being that it’s Valentine’s week, you’re probably thinking I’m going to delve into romance here. Forget that. Romantic kisses either happen or they don’t. Plus, we’re slogging through flu season. Cooties.
It’s the other kind of kiss that can smack us with anxiety and confusion. The platonic, on-the-cheek type. The “Oh, I haven’t seen you in forever and you’re a relative/friend/person who might be aiming for my face or just a hug so let’s awkwardly roll with this.”
These pecks of fondness are either confusing or confusingly nonexistent. I think it often depends on where you are, by country or even by state.
I learned about the crazy cultural nuances of hello and goodbye kisses at an early age. As I have mentioned before, my father is a French immigrant. He married my mom, a Brooklyn gal. They raised my brothers and me in the New York metropolitan area. However, almost every summer we would visit my father’s family in France, and often enough they would visit us in the U.S. I had two very distinct sets of relatives. The Bonjours and the Fuggedaboudits. My upbringing was a swirling, bi-cultural smoothie.
Perhaps you would conclude, given the stereotypes, a combination of French and New York cultures would land me with a double-whammy of aloofness. A coldness, even. Minimal affection.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
I have lived in quite a few places and I have traveled. Nowhere on earth have I been the recipient of more hugs and kisses than in France and in New York.
If only I had video of the childhood moments when my brothers and I would greet our overseas French people. At first, we would stand there dumbfounded. There would be a kiss on the right cheek. Then a kiss on the left cheek. Then kiss again on the right cheek, and to keep it even, one more for the left. Four pecks per person.
The French folks taught us double-double kisses were de rigueur if you haven’t seen the person in at least a year. So we’d spend weeks in that pucker-pucker-pucker-pucker zone. It was both exhausting and habit-forming. Then we’d return to the homeland. We’d visit Grandma’s street in Brooklyn, where one big hug, one kiss and a hearty pre-Heimlich pat on the back was the way to go. But as kids, we’d forget and immediately bob over for the other cheek. My Brooklyn clan and family friends always hesitated, shrugged, but then went along. They realized we still hadn’t fully de-Frenched. No prob. Adorable.
But now, I’m in the Midwest. I’m. So. Confused. Hugs are abundant in some circles, but it seems platonic cheek kisses are iffy and extremely situational. Sometimes there’s a two-year rule for maybe a kiss, sometimes not. I don’t know. Help me.
This confusion is punctuated by my frequent New York visits where EVERYBODY kisses me, even if it’s my brother’s multi-tattooed fedora-wearing city hipster friends I haven’t seen since 1999. They instinctively lunge for hello cheek pecks. It’s the law.
Here’s what I’ve learned: If you know French people or New Yorkers even by the thinnest thread of bloodlines or acquaintance-ship, you WILL be kissed on the cheek, badaboom, badabing, oui. Also, ever-smiling Midwesterners are a kind and generous and loving lot, indeed, but here folks seem to hang on to their ChapStick. Unless…maybe it’s me?
Perhaps a kiss is just a kiss. But I can’t help my geographical bewilderment. Maybe I’ll figure out this whole thing, as time goes by.
Happy Valentine’s Day. XOXO, XOXO.