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Which way do you kiss in Italy?

airkissContrary to what you might be thinking, based on the title of this post, this is not going to be a primer about the Italian equivalent of the “French kiss,” or anything like that. No, this is just a quick post to put to rest once and for all an issue that, if you’re unprepared, could result in some seriously awkward moments with your new Italian friends. I’m talking, of course, about the double-check kissing upon greeting someone. The question at hand, and one I’ve been asked many times, is – which way do I lean first when kissing in Italy?

When I asked my Italian teacher this question last year, she actually couldn’t remember. She’s from Venice, but has lived outside Italy for many years now (first in Germany and now the US), so she’s been corrupted by non-Italians and their faulty sense of direction, apparently. It was amusing to watch her mime doing the double-cheek-kiss to an invisible partner, trying to remember which one felt more natural. In the end, however, it was left up to me to observe greetings closely in Italy to figure out which way to lean.

(I’m going to interject one small note to all of you who travel to Italy looking for an Italian lover, for a long-term or short-term affair – even if you know the answer of which way to lean when kissing, feign ignorance. What could be awkward when greeting the elderly neighborhood shopkeeper could be the stuff dreams are made of when greeting your potential love interest. I’m just sayin’.)

So – without further ado…

Q: Which way should I lean first when kissing in Italy?

A: Right. Always lean right first. Of course, if you’re unsure, hesitate for a moment and let your partner lead! And it’s one quick “kiss” on each cheek, unlike some places where it can be three or four kisses in total.

cheekkissIn truth, it’s less about actually having your lips touch the other person’s cheek, although that’s fine, and more about pressing your cheeks together. On a related note, these cheek kisses are perfectly acceptable for any gender combination to greet one another – two women, two men, or one of each – but not if you don’t know someone well enough. Start with a handshake, and if they keep coming toward you, be prepared to pucker. (The picture at the right is Rome’s former mayor, Walter Veltroni, getting a warm smoochy greeting during a political event.)

Here’s a great video from GeoBeats that includes this kissing information, as well as a bunch of other great etiquette tips for traveling in Italy. It says it’s about etiquette for Florence, but this stuff applies throughout the country.