Just when we think we have educated ourselves in
those different cultural customs that once caused such
confusion at international business meetings, there is
a new social minefield to navigate. it’s corporate
kissing – that moment, round the board table or in
some other formal business setting, when friends,
acquaintances and business partners meet cheek
to cheek. Or, as often happens, not.
It is natural and elegant when done properly. Hideously embarrassing when misjudged. Everyone knows that moment of going right when the other party has anticipated left, of making contact only with an ear, of leaning into a kiss that was not only unexpected, but also unwelcome.
Because a kiss is not necessarily just a kiss. Behaving appropriately and in line with etiquette avoids personal embarrassment and conveys an important message.
Here is your indispensable, international guide to the dos and don’ts.
An important starting point for men in all cultures is to remember that the decision to receive (a kiss) should always be the prerogative of the woman. It should never be imposed by her male opposite number, who will need to read the body language quickly to work out whether he should proceed.
The accompanying table summarizes best practice with regard to number of pecks in some of the more important territories of the world.
In France, surprising as it might seem to outsiders with preconceived notions of my countrymen, kisses are generally omitted in a professional setting unless there is a long standing and obvious personal relationship. It is frequent for men and women to kiss in more discreet circumstances but generally they avoid doing so in more public, work-related settings.
The French invented the hand kiss, a deliciously old fashioned gesture and the ultimate sign of respect of a man towards a woman. Some women (though only in a private or social setting, not a professional one) expect it as a matter of course and will present their hand horizontally and rather limply. Do not take this as an invitation for a bone crushing American handshake.