Las cosas que me encantan: dos besos

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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.

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6 responses »

  1. So interesting, I was just talking about this the other day!

    I’m used to the beso thing cause the latino culture generally gives one. So when I met my coordinator at the airport she went in was fine but totally caught off guard for the second one.

    Sometimes besos are awkward since people tend to think it’s mandatory so if i’m in the corner of the room and a guy has to jump over chairs tables and the like just to have to greet me. Same goes if i’m sitting on my couch which sits pretty low, do I make them come all the way down to kiss me or I get up so they don’t have to…but then again that means I have to get up…lol just a tiny bit complicated…

  2. Hi Brianne, Since it’s flu season, this would be a good time to air kiss rather than shake hands. Even other times during the year, I’m reluctant to reach out my hand to shake. Of course, if the other person offers a hand, I do shake. However, I’ve found myself reluctant to offer first. It makes me feel a bit like the humorous detective, Mr. Monk, whom I’ve watched on television when I have time. On the show, which is only available now in re-runs, Mr. Monk had an assistant who followed him around with wipes. At the library there are now sanitary dispensers by the elevators so it is easy to clean our hands. Most of us keep Germ ex, Kleenex, and cough drops handy.

    I find that my female Latino students are lavish with hugs! Of course, they only hug after several months with me. As you know, I have students for years so sometimes a kiss becomes part of the hug. Latino men seem more Americanized because they stick with a handshake.

    You were given a huge compliment in the surprise of the gentlemen who didn’t expect besos from you. Obviously, you have become immersed in the culture and it has become a natural habit. You are having such a splendid journey which is not limited to geography! I love your blog.

  3. Hi Sweety! I enjoyed your entry tonight! I think I would totally dig “besos” and already do that with a couple of adult friends but usually just when we’re parting. I love the warmth in the Spanish culture that you write about.
    When Steve & I were in France, we stayed with his sister at her host family’s house. When we met the children, the youngest boy kept going up and down on his tip toes and we thought maybe he had to go to the bathroom. Then Steve’s sister realized he wanted to the the kisses on the cheeks. It was so cute! Love and miss you!

  4. They do do it with family. My boyfriend does, anyway. With his brother, dad, uncles, and YOUNGER male cousins, he will, yes. So you are right. However, even with close male friends, he doesn’t. They just do the man hug – a handshake pulled into a hug. 🙂

  5. Ah, the bisous! When I think of all of the unpleasant half-hugs (or, worse, the side hugs,) and clammy, limp, halfhearted handshakes I’ve had in my life, it makes me wonder how Americans can imagine that air kisses are somehow a more awkward form of greeting…

  6. Pingback: Things I love about where I live (Part 1) « Peace Love & Tapas

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