K is for Kissing in Portugal
Who exactly should you kiss in Portugal? When should you kiss them? I don’t mean full on romantic smooches, which are obviously reserved for very special people. I’m talking about the friendly greeting kisses, one on each side of the face. Although it’s an integral part of life here, I’m afraid social kissing in Portugal is something I still haven’t worked out properly.
After almost eight years of living in countries where kisses form part of social greetings, you’d think I’d have sussed out who I should and shouldn’t kiss but sadly, I’m still confused. I get that when you see friends and family, it’s normal to kiss each cheek to say hello, and I even do this with some of my British friends when we meet up.
Beyond my immediate circle, however, I’m at a loss. I either hold back when I probably shouldn’t, or dish out kisses like they’re going out of fashion. I’ve ended up kissing the builder on a few occasions – he’s also a neighbour so the boundaries are a bit blurry – but now that he’s not working at our house and we see him very rarely, it feels awkward and inappropriate to kiss him when we do meet so I’ve gone back to just saying hello.
Even that feels weird though, as though we’ve dropped back from a level of intimacy that should never have been there. Don’t get me wrong, there was never any hint of ‘intimate’ relations, and I have no idea what his thoughts are on this. Hopefully, it’s just me that feels slightly uncomfortable at perhaps having overstepped the boundaries and then retreated. Hopefully, if he’s even noticed, he’ll have put it down to the fact that I’m foreign and don’t know any better.
It’s not just the builder that I have problems with. I teach English as a foreign language and Parents’ Day is fraught with uncomfortable situations. Most parents are content to play along with the ‘Britishness’ of a handshake as a greeting but some lean in for the kissy business.
It took quite a while for me to work out which side of the face to aim for to avoid awkward clashes, and to be honest, I couldn’t tell you which one it is. That’s partly because I am left / right dyslexic, which leads to frantic pointing across the windscreen when I’m navigating as in “Go that way,” and partly because I’ve taken a Zen approach to choosing a side, which seems to be working well.
The problem with kissing parents, I’ve found, is knowing what level of physical contact is appropriate. Am I supposed to air kiss, or lightly brush each cheek? Do I touch their shoulder or arm or just keep my hands to myself? Any advice is more than welcome!
In some ways, the kissing dilemma is worse with the students. In the UK, there’s no way a teacher would kiss a student. It would be grounds for dismissal in the land of Child Protection Laws. So it’s difficult, especially at the start of the first term, trying to evade the lips of the eight and nine-year-olds who want to kiss me goodbye after class.
Sometimes their parents bring them along to Parents’ Day meetings and when the children offer their cheeks up for a kiss, I oblige. But only in front of their parents. Back in the classroom I’m not going there!
So help me out, please. If you can tell me who, when and how I should be kissing socially in Portugal, please leave a comment.