I was quite surprised the first time I saw two grown men greeting each other with loud kisses on the cheek on a pavement in the university area of Paris. I had the idea that in the West, when two men exchanged greetings, they shook hands, a man and a woman greeted each other by kissing both cheeks of the other person and girls just hugged each other. So, I decided to ask my French friend Géraud about it.
“You can greet everyone with kisses. Most men just shake hands because they think it’s manly,” said Géraud with a grin. We had shaken hands when we’d met a couple of days before this conversation.
In the Netherlands, I greeted my friend Harry with a regular handshake. When he introduced me to his girlfriend and her two female friends, I went ahead with the usual kiss on each cheek with the first girl and just as I was about to withdraw, I noticed she had leaned forward for a third kiss on the first cheek again. I got the drift and did the three-kiss routine with the other girls.
In Italy, I saw men and women follow the two-kiss greeting and girls hug each other. I saw a lot of men shake hands but two men of this Albanian family I met in Rome did kiss me on my cheeks. Well, I reciprocated, of course!
I had met two German girls in Calcutta a couple of years ago and followed the two-kiss greeting. They seemed to smile a little too much but were too polite to point out they didn’t usually do it that way. Later, when I visited Germany, I found out that everyone, irrespective of gender, just hugged. So, when I met them again in Berlin, I knew what to do.
When in Europe, some Europeans would wait for me to initiate the greeting. The reason for this, I suppose, is because they were unsure of how I would react to their way of doing it. Some probably thought they’d scandalise the Indian guy if they did anything more than a “Namaste”!
But when in doubt, a hug always works in the West.