By | Shital Kakkar Mehra | Executive Presence Coach for CEOs I Business Communication Expert I Best-selling Author I Co-Founder Katalyst, NGO
Last month when US Diplomat John Kerry visited Paris, his enthusiastic hug led to a cross-cultural faux pas. Although he had indicated his intentions before the trip with the direct “My visit to France is basically to share a big hug for Paris …” when he rushed forward with open arms to embrace the French President, there was a moment of awkwardness as the French do not greet with a hug. The French media tried to find a suitable word to describe ‘Le Hug’ as most words sounded either too romantic or patronizing and they settled for ‘accolade’.
Clearly, the American hug was alien to the French culture, just like air-kissing is alien to the Indian culture. Described as “the pretense of kissing accompanied by the mwah sound”, this form of greeting involves entering another person’s personal space by placing your lips a few inches north of their ear while lightly pretending to touch their cheek to yours. In India, till a few years ago, social kissing was restricted to Page 3 regulars only. However, rapid globalization has pushed Indians to interact with business persons across the globe (Americans, Russians, Europeans, Mexicans and Arabs) in socio-business settings, leading to confusion! Commonly asked questions about this alien concept:
- Should we start with the right or the left cheek?
- How many times should we air kiss – once or twice or thrice?
- If uncomfortable with air-kissing, what’s the best way to avoid it?
Interestingly, air-kissing is cultural – a single kiss on the right cheek in the US, two / three kisses in many parts of Europe. In UK and Germany, it’s reserved for people one knows socially and is not extended to business associates. In cultures where developing a relationship is critical before trusting people with business, the greeting may extend beyond to a light back-slap or a half-hug e.g. Russians and the Middle East.
Tip: If you feel uncomfortable air-kissing your business contacts, anticipate it and put your right hand out for a firm handshake.