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Kissing in Mexico

Kissing in Mexico

Not makeout kissing–although Mexicans are sure experts at that!  I mean the social kissing–that little smooch in the air over your right shoulder.  What’s up with that?

December 30, 2007

Silvia and Pablo in Los Ayala, Nayarit

Silvia and Pablo in Los Ayala, Nayarit

Now, you’ve got to understand that I grew up in the farmlands of Upstate New York, of northern European heritage.  We aren’t exactly as cold as the climate, but almost.  My family are not real big kissers.  For billing and cooing it’s ok, and a kiss on the cheek for Ma when you haven’t seen her for a while, but that’s about it.

Which makes Mexico seem like the land of the Hoovers.  Man, everyone kisses.  Not French kisses now, but that cheek peck thing.  Completely different species than a lover’s kiss.  It takes a guy some getting used to.

Years ago I started working in Mexico, and celebrated my birthday soon after.  I doubted anyone at work even knew it was my big day, which was fine by me.  Until I was called into a hall with a table and a cake.  And a line.  Everyone was waiting for cake, I thought.  No.  They were waiting to plant one on me.

Now, if I had my choice of who would be in line, and maybe the order, I’d pucker up with pleasure.  But that’s not the way it works.  You are expected to get intimate with all comers in situations like this.

I don’t imagine I did very well at that first kiss-a-thon.  It was a real shock.

Of course it is a cultural thing.  The folks in line were just being friendly and welcoming the new guy.  At that early stage in my Mexico experience I guarded kisses like I was allotted just so many to distribute around, and I wasn’t about to waste any of them on Chuyita from receiving.  With so many puckers coming my way, I felt like an anchovy in the seal tank—the guest of honor at a feeding frenzy.

I’ve since come to terms with the kissy thing, and sometimes I almost like it—or at least it feels natural.  But I’m still picky with my kissing partners.  Don’t pressure me.  Omar’s Grandmother—a wonderful woman with possibly the strongest and most volatile personality I’ve ever seen—will pout for days if you don’t dive over the furniture to plant a big one on her rouge the second she comes within range.  Do I feel obligated?  Oh yep.  Do I enjoy it?  Yah, right.

With Omar the kissing comes naturally, of course.  He kisses his friends, his relatives, his mother and father and grandparents.  It is a sign of friendship and respect.

I’ve almost made peace with promiscuous social kissing, just as I have with slamming my face into a birthday cake once a year (see the Birthday post about “mordidas”).  I do it to be nice and fit in and not get slugged by Omar’s grandmother, but I don’t get much pleasure out of it.  Of course, a lot depends on the recipient of the action.  I’ll smooch Tochi any day (see Tochimani in the Primavera post) ‘cause she’s a great friend.  Iris too.  And Tia Mago.

Come to think of it, maybe I’m finally Mexicanized after all.  With most people, it feels pretty natural for me to greet them with a peck.  After all, it is just a quick clench and an air kiss somewhere in front of the ear.  Its not like, you know, sex or anything.

There are no rules as to which side you should favor first, which if you don’t watch your timing and coordination as your heads swing from side to side will occasionally lead to frenching Grandma flush on the lips.  You kiss upon meeting and again upon departing.  You know if a kiss is expected if someone comes closer than seems natural, all the while pointing their chin up and to the northwest.  Don’t diagnose the situation too long, for the moment is fleeting.  Leaving someone’s unbussed jaw hanging in the breeze while you weigh your options is an offense not soon forgotten.  Just snuggle in with your jaw pointing northeast (it’s best to practice in a mirror—pointing your jaw too far north is not considered very attractive), brush cheeks lightly, and make the appropriate sucking sounds.  (You don’t want to go overboard here—practice with a tape recorder.  Ideally you should sound like a cork lightly popping from a wine bottle and not a pig pulling his foot out of the mud).

Same sex kissing is common, depending on context.  A man will kiss his father and grandfather and children.  Depending on degree of closeness, he may kiss his uncles and close friends.  Female friends smooch each other with abandon.  Depending on your orientation and preferences and comfort within your skin, you can make your own rules and kiss anyone you know will be happy to return the favor, regardless of sex.  If anyone gives you a look, tell them he’s your father.

As a junior high school teacher I stood in the doorway of the classroom, while boys shook my hand and girls sometimes kissed my cheek.  Try that in the US and see where it gets you.  Obviously, the greeting kiss carries a whole different set of meanings and connotations in Latin cultures than it does for my family.  The priest in my folk’s church is Italian, and everyone races to kiss him, so it is a cultural and not a geographical behavior.  It’s all what you grew up with.

When it comes right down to it and I get over my Puritanical upbringing, a little “hello” peck on the cheek can be kind of nice.

Dan and Omar

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Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.