Monday, March 24, 2014

Kissing and Flashing - São Paulo

Okay the ladies are Greek (note they have to wear sweaters) not Brazilian. Credit:

This post sounds pretty exciting, right? Well, that shows how us marketers of the world find jobs. But  I've led you into something not as exciting as you think. A cultural lesson, if you don't already know it.

Kissing in Brazil is an art form. A test of your skill in discovering what the other person is thinking. I am talking, of course, about social non-partner kissing. You can kiss your partner any way you want and no one cares. No, I'm talking about greetings and how to figure out who to kiss and when and how many times. I, by the way, will not be able to solve the situation for you because after nine years in Brazil, I still get it wrong about 50% of the time.

When you first meet someone, the usual greeting is a kiss on the cheek. At least between women. In an office situation, you will probably shake hands with the men, and sometimes with the women. Usually I wait for the other woman to make the move...and usually they seem to be waiting for me. So we shake hands as often as not because that is my fall-back plan as an uptight Connecticut Yankee. 

If I know the men already, then they get a kiss on the cheek even in the office environment. And by the way, do not EVER try to escape greeting every single person in every single room. You must, socially and professionally speaking, say hello or good morning to every single person, even if you work with them every single day of your life. And then say goodbye at the end of the day. 

So that's work. That's easy. The social situations are tougher. As I said, you must for sure greet everyone in the room. There are some of my friends who are one-cheek kissers and some who like to give two kisses, one on each cheek. I have figured out which are which, and generally get that right. By the way, even if you have a two-cheek kisser on arrival, at departure time, they may only be a one-cheek kisser. Try to figure that out or you may be left hanging with your lips all pursed and making a smacky sound when none should exist.

By the way, there are air kissers and cheek kissers too. I would go for air if you don't know the person well, and then you'll be able to figure out some of your friends like to kiss you really ON the cheek.  I have not been successful kissing on the actual cheek because you have watch the loud smacker sound. Not so elegant.

The hardest ones are the acquaintances. Especially if they are from Rio (two-cheeks), Recife (three-cheeks) or just particularly effusive folks. Then you may get three kisses and a hug. And possibly an engagement request. And someone may stay hanging on to your arm to tell you something in confidence and then even though you want them off your arm (Connecticut Yankee), you are not allowed to shake them off at any time. 

Now the worst you can do is leave someone hanging as they try to kiss you again. Try to signal your intention as you go in for the first kiss. If you turn your cheek more to the side, and slowly, they will see that you can't possibly get back in time for the second cheek. If you're going for two-cheeks, then buzz in on a straightaway and hold their eyes as you go for the other cheek too. Try not to rub noses--I did that a couple of weeks ago with a business acquaintance and it was a little embarrassing. I tried to tell him that is what Americans do (Alaska, right?) but well, umm, it was not good.

Where injury can be done is if you go in for only the one-cheek and then as you are pulling back you see other person wanted two and then you go back only to whack your cheekbone against theirs. This hurts both pride and face (possibly what the Japanese mean about losing face, or cracking it perhaps). 

Now all the above applies only to you as a woman. If you are a man, you have a hard row to hoe. As in, I've explained all the women kissing and handshaking above but watch out for other men. A first greeting is a handshake, and perhaps a small whack on the shoulder from your other hand. If you know the other man better, then you really give him a whack on the shoulder and maybe a little grippy on the shoulder near the collar bone. 

Okay this is sports but pretty much what a male greeting looks like between close friends. Credit:

Where things get truly violent and potentially weird, is when the men are good friends. I love watching my husband greet his college friends (and other close friends). It is a handshake, then a whack on the shoulder, then a pull in for a hug, when your right hand releases, then you pat the other man on the tummy or chest. Or whack them on the tummy or chest depending on your level of intimacy. It is really fun to watch. Especially when they double over in pain. No, men don't kiss men on the cheek here--those are the Italians, or maybe the French. Never seen it here.

Do not attempt to escape a greeting or something like this happens:

I said I wanted a HUG! credit:
Okay, I think I'm done here with kissing but I've run out of space. Let's leave the flashing until tomorrow. I know, I know, it's going to be hard to sleep with the curiosity...


  1. You have summed up my life for the last 4 years! I am British. Not just British but English. Not just English but from Yorkshire - so nice and reserved and respectful of personal boundaries. You would be lucky to get a handshake from me 4 years ago. Then I move to Switzerland, land of the 3 air kisses :-o With lots of British, American, European friends. A veritable mine field for guessing the number of air kisses coming my way! I can live with the Brazilian 1 kiss, I just need to de-program myself from the 3 kisses fast - totally confused a teacher at my daughter's school last week!

    1. My (Brazilian) husband told me that you could give three kisses here if you said at the same time "and one to get married". But I'm assuming that should only be used with the single folks, well, and probably not at all because who knows what minefield we'd be stepping on!! Last time I did one of those, the person had recently broken off his engagement. Excellent work. ;)