Wednesday, August 10, 2011

New York Kisses = Midwestern Handshakes

I don't come from a very lovey-dovey family. Growing up, I never had any doubt that my parents loved me, or vice versa, but we rarely showed it in any outward form. I can't remember the last time I hugged my sister. A psychologist might say that this is because Mom used to punish us as kids by sitting us down on the front porch and making us hold hands. I, however, think it's just in our genes.

Through Paul's family and numerous friends in Columbus, however, I gradually got used to hugging. That's especially true now that arrivals and departures happen only two or three times a year. There's no avoiding a hug when you haven't seen someone for 9 months, and hugs don't even make me uncomfortable anymore. I've even been known to -- gasp! -- initiate a hug.

But in New York I've been initiated into something entirely new: kisses, European-style.

I've experienced this enough in New York (and not at all in Ohio) to learn a few rules, draw a few conclusions and yet still have multiple questions.

Kisses are performed upon first meeting for the night and then again upon leaving. Kisses are between one man and one woman -- no same-sex smooches here, unlike in some countries. They're not absolutely mandatory, but they seem to be a replacement to a handshake. A courtesy.

I've exchanged kisses with people I've known for a few years and people I've met only once or twice. Depth of friendship seems to be irrelevant.

Looking back on what I've just written, I feel a little like Jane Goodall. Instead of observing chimpanzees, however, I'm closely watching the behavior of an even more foreign species: the native New Yorker.

A recent occurrence confirmed my growing suspicions about the difference between New Yorkers and Midwesterners in this regard. I was at a bar and saying goodbye to two of Paul's male friends. One moved to New York City as a child, the other is a Midwesterner who's lived in New York about a year. I got a kiss from the New Yorker followed by a firm handshake from the Midwesterner.

I'm still slightly uncomfortable with the kissing, although I've done it enough now that I'm sure it will be as commonplace as the hug with time. Although, since it took me roughly 25 years to be comfortable with hugging, I'm not sure how much time I will need.


  1. Very interesting post. I recently met a friend for the first time who was a native New Yorker, someone I've worked with on an online venture related to JET. We'd never met in person but had exchanged emails for a couple years. I was taken by surprise when upon meeting me he greeted me with a peck on the cheek (though not Joe of course!). At the time I thought that seemed awfully friendly but now it makes more sense.

  2. I've never noticed this before. I think. But, even if I've met you for only 2-3 hours, when we are ready to say our goodbyes, I pretty sure I hug, or even kiss. Very interesting. I will have to pay attention to NYers v. umm, others.



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