…or a “Greeting-Guide” about how to say hello and goodbye.
by Jana Echterhoff
I’ve never thought that saying goodbye to someone could be difficult, at least not in a practical sense. But that was before I came to Maastricht. When at Vrijthof, sometime in one of my first weeks here, my Italian friend and I separated after our tutorial. “So, goodbye, see you!”, that’s what she said. We approached, and I expected her to hug me – being what we usually do in Germany. However, that was probably when I discovered I wasn’t in Germany anymore. As she is Italian, she tried to kiss me on my cheeks. Well, you can probably imagine how the rest looked like… Or let’s rather say: how it didn’t look like. No hugging, no kissing, instead one more reason to laugh – that was the ultimate result.
Oh I love them, these awkward moments when we Germans turn out as one of the stiffest nation I know. That’s probably the reason why we both had to laugh at my answer on her question about how many times we kiss each other in Germany: “We’re talking about Germany, no one usually kisses each other to say hello – we have to keep our safety- I mean… distance”. That’s it, a simple fact. So if there’s someone who doesn’t make any attempts to kiss you for saying hello or goodbye – never mind, it’s probably just another German. Of course, that’s no signal for not liking each other, it just might take a little longer until this person adapts to the openness of other nationalities.
And this openness is really eye-catching here in Maastricht. If you want to be on the safe side, just give cheek-kisses, two of them are quite common – at least as far as I’ve seen it. However, even that is not the whole story. It differs from a country to country – but as a contrast to the main difference between Germany and the rest is not about general rules, but about the number of kisses you exchange. That’s something which easily goes wrong, too. And there is always something that can lead to awkward moments, as I’ve already experienced. I said hello to a Finnish girl, an Italian girl and a German. Starting with the Italian one was easy, just one kiss on each side. The German one was easy as well, a simple hello made it. Then the Finnish girl. One kiss on one cheek, then I wanted to give a second one, but suddenly noticed that she didn’t make any attempts to do so. Fail, that didn’t work. It felt like being in one of these stereotypical American sketch-comedies: I hang there in the air and tried to kiss someone who was already gone. It’s like 6 years old again and not knowing what to do and what an amazing feeling that is!
The question I asked myself was: when to give how many kisses? Sometimes it’s easy. Italians give two kisses, in Holland and Luxembourg, people usually give three, Belgium gives one and English guys – well, let’s put them together with Germans. Hugging as an ultimate of emotions could fit. Now there are still countries like France, Spain or the Eastern European countries left – what about them? I honestly have to say that France is not a simple topic – I just know that you usually kiss each other for 2 until 4 times, but that depends on the region you come from. Insecurity about what to do therefore is not seldom, I often just wait for what the other one’s doing then. But not all countries are that diverse. In Spain, for instance, people make it quite simple: the general rule of two kisses fits in as well. In the western region some hugging and kisses on the cheeks are common as well, in case of the latter mostly coming in pairs. Two kisses also suffice in Eastern Europe. So kissing twice means being on the safe side.
Or let’s rather say, it often means it. Here in Maastricht you can hardly make it wrong with two, but apart from the above mentioned rules it can differ. “You want to go? Well, you get two kisses instead of one!”, that’s what a guy from Holland told me when we said goodbye one evening. Help, where are the three Dutch kisses gone? There it was again, this total confusion about what to do or what to avoid. In the end, the worst thing which can happen is to fail it, but then you at least have a good reason to laugh. And finally – even Germans can adapt to the international standard: my Italian friend and I now stated that kissing us twice is the most common method. And now it really works – no confusion anymore, but a little more friendliness in this world. Perfect! My final advice: just talk about it with your international friend; that makes everything much easier!