This is one of several posts in which I just want to talk about one of the many things that enchant me about Spain. (This happens to be one that I’m using to distract myself from the inevitable sadness and general mopiness I’m feeling [and going to be feeling more of] about having to say goodbye [for the time being] to a dear friend who’s going back to the United States tonight) but ANYWAY. Back to the point…today I’m talking about one of the many aspects of Spanish culture that I adore. Which would that be?
Besos. The way people greet one another in Spain is something I’m kind of fascinated by…and in love with. Now before you start thinking I’m a total creeper, just listen. When people meet each other they give each other “dos besos” or one air kiss on both cheeks, that is, when a man meets a woman or a woman meets a woman…don’t think men ever do this to one another, but perhaps they might in family situations or with a dear dear friend (anyone care to give me the facts on that one?). It’s not a real kiss, and you don’t even have to touch the other person, though usually one brushes one’s cheek against the other’s during the action. For some reason, I just love it. There is something incredibly warm and inviting about giving people “besos” that kind of puts shaking hands to shame. Of course, I’m sure there are times when even Spanish people shake hands, but I haven’t yet been in that situation.
Ok, yes, I am American and therefore that makes me automatically very attached to my own personal bubble, which in some cases, yes I am. I don’t really care to have someone talk to me in normal conversation one to two inches from my face, no, but this particular way of greeting doesn’t bother me. On the contrary, I prefer it. It goes for introductions (of which there are always so many in a new place like this, and especially with lots of young people around) it goes for greetings for friends/family/acquaintances, as well as for goodbyes, whether for the night or for many days/months/years. I know some people do this already in the U.S. and to them I probably seem rather idiotic by the novelty of this, but in Nebraska, you’re usually not kissing ANYONE unless it’s your significant other, your grandma or a small child. That said, I’m really fascinated by nonverbal communication, and to me, the besos are an interesting illustration of the haptic (or touch) aspect of Spanish nonverbal communication culture.
It’s been fun adopting this new part of Spanish culture that is so different from that of Americans. As I’ve said before, I try to “do as the Spanish do” as much as I can within reason, and I pretty much give the “besos” to anyone new I meet. It’s gotten to be extremely normal between friends and people I know well, but for some reason it initially seemed a smidge awkward with people I work with, for instance when meeting the jefe de estudios (basically, principal) at my school, but it really shouldn’t have been, as it’s quite the norm regardless of your relationship with the new person you’re meeting. It’s definitely become second nature to me, now, though.
The tricky part, I’ve found, is when you’re meeting Americans or other non-besos-inclined persons while in Spain.
I’ve had many an awkward lean-in-to-air-kiss-but-then-they-don’t-as-well-so-I-don’t-know-how-to-respond-and-it-ends-up-in-an-even-more-awkward-“ok-then-we’ll-just-shake-hands-then”-moment with Americans, Canadians and people from other countries. It’s not that it’s a bad thing to not want to do the besos, but it definitely makes for awkwardness when one does and the other doesn’t intend to, jaja. Perhaps some Americans here just don’t do it at all, out of feeling uncomfortable or feeling weird about the closeness with strangers, I’m not sure.
I was staying in a hostel in Sevilla and was introduced to one young employee by another who said they would know something about finding a good flamenco show. I instinctively did the besos after exchanging names, though he sort of hesitated.
‘Oh dangit, what cultural faux pas did I commit now’ I was thinking to myself and the guy must have seen my reaction, because he pretty much read my mind and said, “No, no, it’s no problem. I’m just not used to Americans giving besos. I was just caught by surprise. You’ve traveled a bit, haven’t you?” (To my delight, as this to me, was a sign of me NOT sticking out like a sore thumb/American/tourist, which is always my intention.)
Anyway, enough of my ramblings about how much I love the Spanish method of greeting. One last petition to any Americans/other not-as-touchy-cultures: can we all just do the besos when we are in Spain? It would make for so many less awkward, first-kiss-esque, face bumping, unfortunate greetings. Gracias.
But what do you think? Do as the locals do, or “get-the-you-know-what-out-of-my-face/space”?
See? It's not so bad, people. Just an air kiss.