One of my confessions is that…I kiss men. That statement, depending on which part of the world you come from, will either ensure that you stop reading now, or continue because you accept the practice, or are intrigued by what I mean. But, it’s true.
One of my ‘musical heroes’ of yesteryear, sang in nasalised manner, and the song’s refrain was, ‘…for the times they are a-changing’, and I’ve concluded this is so. Especially in the area of male-to-male greeting in Europe.
‘Mange tout, Rodney’, Derek ‘Del Boy’ Trotter, in ‘Only Fools And Horses’, played by David Jason
I considered myself au fait with such male-to-male greetings and those unwritten rules, but all that has changed, it seems
When you have English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Italian and French, and French-Canadians in the family, and younger and more mature people as well, and then ‘of the land’ eco-warriors, and Druids, and Freemasons, and local council professionals, then in one way or another, male-to-male greeting is much more complex than it used to be.
‘I have become all things to all people…’, Paul in the Book, 1 Corinthians 9:22a
Paul gives some broad principals of adapting to differing settings, but nowhere does he give even a hint about how you weigh up the situation and act accordingly. But that’s Paul. All those letters, and not a word about male-to-male greeting. He must have committed a few faux pas in his time, surely? If so, he knows how I feel.
Let me outline, some of the quandries I found myself in this week alone:
- I visited my brother at County Hall. He came toward me with his right hand extended. I walked toward him with both arms ready to embrace. Surrounded by officials, what was one expected to do?
- half way through the large and very formal Church service in the City, they had ‘the peace’! If you have ever experienced that event or similar, it is the ‘Marmite moment: you either love it or hate it. The service lead minister was walking toward me with both arms extended, and I, as service assistant minister, was moving toward him with both arms extended. What would happen?
- a cousin from Italy arrived that I hadn’t seen for some time. He came toward me, but there was no unusual no arm movement to indicate the style of greeting. But, he’s Italian! What happened next? What was I to do?
What to do?
In the first instance a handshake might be good for the more formal setting but it was a family member. So I hugged. Full embrace. It might have prompted a few grins from onlookers, but I’m sure there are other things for them to worry about, and my greeting was sincere.
In the second instance at the Church service – and I do like ‘the peace’ event – the service lead minister came toward me and we shook hands and half-embraced each other with the ‘free’ arm. A pound hug, I believe it’s called. Some eyebrows were raised at such informality, I’m sure, but hey, I do believe those people will be in for a shock when they get to Heaven. Ofcourse, it’ll be a pleasant one, by definition. One can hardly hate such informally in Heaven. I mean, it wouldn’t be Heaven then, would it?
And finally, my cousin from Italy. Without thinking he embraced me, and I followed suit. It seemed the natural thing to do. And, then we kissed. No, not a lip to lip, tongue-usage kiss, but a ‘southern Mediterranean’ male-to-male kiss on each others cheek. The setting was right. The rule here, it seems is not to pucker up, but briefly rest one cheek against the other. Cheek to cheek momentarily.
I do believe any ‘awkwardness’ I have felt in the past – not now – has been only ‘me’. Others look on without judgement, and even it they did judge, I’m not (now) concerned.
‘In all things, be natural. And don’t feel you have to explain yourself.’ Tadhg
I’ve found that if greetings, such as those mentioned above, come from the heart, and they should, there is no wrong or right way. Just the natural way. Natural male to male greeting. Ofcourse, those from even more widely-separated cultures may experience a shock when visiting Europe, but isn’t it good to experience this culture-shock? It pulls us out of our lethargy, and it encourages us to review what we say and think and do in the presence of others! That uneasiness can be seen on Bush’s face as he’s greeted by the Italian President.
And maybe, one more ‘confession’. I kiss my sons. Their friends are used to it, as are most of the family, but sometimes one or two (distant) family members might query it. But, hey ho!
When I greet my sons and say good-bye they get a kiss on the top of their head. It’s my way – peculiar or not – but its my way of showing fatherly love for my dear sons, and yes, I’ll even go so far as to say it is my way of annointing them, encouraging them, declaring that I’m proud of them, and blessing them. All of that in a kiss, and for me, something that would be miserably lost in a mere handshake.
In all of this male-to-male greeting rule changes I’ve learned to take the lead if the other party seem uncertain, to aim for the more friendly approach rather than the more formal, and to do it from the heart, and then one cannot go wrong. Ofcourse, that encourages some friends in my presence, and unnerves others. Be warned!