This isn’t the first time I’ve lived abroad, and I know that different cultures do things differently: I’ve seen “Gung ho”, “Dances with Wolves”, and “European Vacation”. But I was pretty young in Saudi Arabia, and frankly, we were pretty much sequestered away from the whole Saudi culture while we were there. I do know that men and women didn’t have a lot of contact with one another. They sure as hell weren’t kissing in public.
In Poland, as a twentysomething, they shook hands as a greeting just as we do in the U.S. The main difference was the frequency. I used to play weekly basketball with about 15 guys and every week as each of us arrived, you had to go around to each guy and shake his hand, very firmly. We were usually crammed into a small closet-turned-locker room too, with all of us in various states of undress, so this always led to the slightly uncomfortable shaking of the hand while making sure your pants are on. The only out of the ordinary greeter in Poland was my boss, Adam. He would frequently give big bear hugs and real kisses on both cheeks. He would often serve vodka in the middle of the day too, so I think it was just his way. Very jolly, that Adam.
So the kiss on the cheek thing has been an ongoing adjustment for me. Thankfully, I have a few friends who are naturals at it and almost always seem to instigate it. I keep waiting for someone to flinch back and say something like, “But Mike, you’re a married man!”
I also am wary about starting this practice with women who I’ve, to this point, never done it to before. For example, there are some people from work that I’ve started this practice with and it seems all very good and kosher. I’ve even side-kissed one of my superiors and it’s gone swimmingly; however, I cannot imagine the horror I might inflict on some of the other ladies. “What the F are you doing, Mike?” Sometimes, there’s a brief moment of eye contact, and I wonder if they’re thinking, “Wait a sec. He’s leaning in? What is he…oh my God! Does he think he’s going to kiss me?”
In contrast, I was a quick study when it came to greeting other men. It’s not a lot different than back home, but it’s novel enough. Simple and the same for everyone: a hand slap followed by a fist pound. Works for the bus driver, your boss, or your students. It’s like Mexican men got together as a country, decided on it, and there you have it.
Easy, and kinda cool.
Love and such,
Mike, Corrie, and the Bear