Do you need a greeting that’s somewhere between a formal handshake and a too-intimate kiss? In these cases, an air kiss, in which you brush cheeks and kiss the air near someone’s cheek, is a good display of social decorum.
Part 1 of 2:Giving an Air Kiss
1. Air kiss at special, formal occasions
Air kiss at special, formal occasions. Typically, formal events (such as weddings, formal parties, and official ceremonies) that bring together people who are on good terms, but who otherwise don’t see each other, is the common setting for air kisses.
Less formal occasions (family get-togethers, neighborhood barbecues, and casual lunches) may warrant the traditional hug and lips-on-cheek kiss, especially if you see the person you’re greeting on a regular basis.
2. Air kiss people you know, but don’t know well
Air kiss people you know, but don’t know well. In most places, air kisses are not given to strangers. Instead, consider distant relatives, friends of your parents, or people to whom you’ve been introduced by a mutual friend as good candidates for air kisses.
Family members and close friends might be offended at an air kiss’ subtle implication that you don’t know them well enough for a hug or a real kiss.
3 .Greet your acquaintance by name
Greet your acquaintance by name. Before moving in for the air kiss, exclaim your acquaintance’s name and smile as you approach them. If you’ve forgotten their name, simply exclaim, “How great to see you!”, or “There you are!”
4. Read the body language
Read the body language. As you approach, reach out with your hand, whether to touch or grasp your acquaintance’s upper arm, elbow, or hand(s). If they recoil or tighten up in any way, consider defaulting to a loose hug or shoulder pat instead. If they seem relaxed and return your contact, an air kiss is probably in order. And if they embrace you affectionately or touch your face, prepare to kiss and be kissed, traditional-style.
5. Lean in for an air kiss
Lean in for an air kiss. Aim to bring your lips near their right cheek (unless it’s customary in your culture to start with the left). However, make sure that your acquaintance is also going for your right cheek to avoid an awkward halt as you both realize your faces are about to crash together.
As you’re going in for the kiss, it’s not uncommon to brush cheeks gently.
6. Kiss the air next to the cheek
Kiss the air next to the cheek. Purse your lips together and kiss the air just to the side of their face. Depending what’s customary for the cultural context of the event, it may be appropriate to switch sides and repeat, going in for an air kiss on the opposite cheek.
A sound effect, like a discreet kissing sound is generally seen as a friendly and feminine gesture to further embellish the greeting.
Part 2 of 2:Understanding the Differing Cultural Conventions
1. Read up on the common cultural conventions
Read up on the common cultural conventions. If you are visiting or moving to a foreign country, it would be wise to spend some time reading about what is common. This is also important if you have visitors from a foreign country. Knowing the correct greeting will help you fit in, and will make others more comfortable around you.
In North America, it is common for acquaintances or close friends to give one or two air kisses, starting with the right cheek. Men and men generally do not kiss, though men kiss women and women kiss women often. Air kisses are more popular in large cities, as well as in parts of Quebec and New England.
In the United Kingdom, air kisses between upper class friends are common. It’s considered unusual, though not unacceptable, for two men to air kiss.
In Spain and Italy, it’s generally two kisses, starting with the right or the left cheek, depending on the region.
In France, it will be two, three or four kisses depending on the region. If you don’t know, check first or go for two kisses. Usually the air kiss is done when meeting with women, but men air kiss each other as well. French people are usually air kissing when meeting and leaving at anytime of the day.
In the Netherlands, Poland, Switzerland and Belgium, three kisses are expected.
In Southern and Eastern Europe, air kissing is a common form of greeting between friends and acquaintances.
In Jordan, it is one to the left cheek and several to the right, depending on how much you like the person.
In Latin America, it can be one, two or three kisses. This depends on the location and person. Air kisses are often used to greet new acquaintances, as well as close friends. Men are almost always expected to air kiss women upon greeting.
In Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, air kissing between men a la italiana, e.g., in the style of soccer players, is common.
In Greece it is customary for men to air kiss as well if they know each other well (e.g., distant male relatives, two good friends, etc.).
In the Middle East, air kissing between two people of the same gender is common. Air kisses between opposite genders are not permitted unless the kissers are closely related or married.
In the Philippines, air kisses are a popular form of greeting between adults who are close friends or relatives. In general, women kiss women or men kiss women. Elder relatives often air kiss younger relatives.
In Malaysia and Indonesia, it is expected that a younger relative will air kiss an older relative’s hand as a show of respect. Exhale through the nose on the elder’s hand; the lips are not pursed. Then press the elder’s hand to your forehead.
In South, Central and East Asia, cheek kissing – even air kissing – is uncommon and could perhaps be considered offensive, though it is growing in popularity in metropolitan areas. Follow the lead of those around you.
2. Observe the behavior of others
Observe the behavior of others. If you didn’t have time to do your research about a foreign culture, you can see what other people are doing. This can give you a good idea about whether or not an air kiss is appropriate.
For example, if you’re approaching an entrance and the host is at the door greeting people, see how he or she is behaving.
Watch how people in the street greet each other, as well as how people in cafes greet each other. It will give you a good idea about the levels of intimacy.
3. Search on the internet
Search on the internet. If you didn’t find the kissing etiquette for the place you are visiting above, a quick Google search should give you the information you need. Simply search “air kissing customs” + the name of the country/city you are visiting. Take these with a grain of salt though, as some information may not be true in all situations.
You can also do this quickly on your phone if you realize you forgot, and you’re meeting someone important in 10 minutes.
4. Ask a native
Ask a native. Don’t be afraid to ask natives of the culture you are interested in about what is typical. While it may not be polite to ask what is appropriate in the moment, if you are having comfortable conversation, it is likely acceptable to politely ask them to explain the greetings that are typical for the culture you are visiting.
This may be particularly valuable if you are visiting a more remote area of a country, where the greeting habits may be less well-known.