Monday, January 14, 2013

I've Kissed a Lot of People

I kissed a middle-aged Dutch woman right on the mouth at a devotional gathering once. I was just as surprised as she was. When greeting someone there, you kiss on the cheek. Then the other cheek. Then yet again on the first cheek. You need a certain rhythm with the other person to do it right. Apparently its easy for most people. And I'm awkward.
In the Dominican Republic, a kiss on the cheek and some kind of hug/embrace/long handshake is usually in order. There are any number of rules and subtleties attached to the greeting schema.
I haven't kissed anyone full on the mouth, but I've had some close calls. Usually, its worse than that. I'm not--how you say?--gentle. Not smooth. I may have bruised a few cheeks. I'm short by US standards, but with all the villagers I hang out with, I'm considered gargantuan. I lean down to greet them and somehow my cheekbone slams into theirs. Not gentle. Not smooth. Then I hug them to make up for the abuse. I may squeeze too tight in the excitement. Everyone is afraid to tell me.
In my high school teaching years, I used to play a diversity-awareness game with my students. I had 20 or so different slips of paper, each indicating a different closeness-comfort-level and greeting custom. Each student took a slip and had to adopt that custom as their own for the activity. The world around, greetings range from cold to hot, short to lengthy--and when you mix the people up, unusual and uncomfortable things happen. Like kissing middle-aged Dutch women at prayer meetings. I never did get her name.
The possible greetings include simple nods of acknowledgement, blinks of acknowledgement, firm handshakes, soft handshakes, brief handshakes, long handshakes, double-handed shakes, elbow holds, shoulder pats, side hugs, full hugs, short and long hugs, a kiss on the cheek, a kiss on each cheek, and three times a lady. I have yet to encounter a group of people who regularly jump into each others' arms as a standard greeting, but I have seen it enough times to warrant mention here. No, I didn't include it in the game for my students. Methinks my principal wouldn't have been too happy.
Back here in the US, I have to remember not to be as touchy-feelie. I've already hugged three strangers because I went in to kiss their cheeks and remembered where I was. Their shoulders noticeably stiffened. What is expected on the island could get me a sexual harassment suit here. Sorry about that, I say. At least I didn't kiss you? Then they go about their work and don't even stay to chat. That must be how people are so efficient and on-time here. They don't talk to perfect strangers for thirty minutes at a go.
The greeting ceremony island-side doesn't end after the kissing and embracing. No, no. You must ask how the person is, their family, their pets, their ex-girlfriend and the health of each. This used to drive me bat-poop-crazy, as the kids say today. Think about it. If you wanted to buy a coffee, make a bank deposit and pick your kid up from school--that's at least 90 minutes of mandatory chit-chat, which doesn't include commute times. Now, I actually enjoy the process and being stateside, am consequently driving others batty asking them about their cat's recent castration or their child's flossing habits. I'll figure it out sooner or later. Hopefully it won't be as I defend myself in court. "Your Honor, I didn't mean to kiss her!"

No comments:

Post a Comment