The Ultimate Kissing Etiquette Guide: World Uses and Customs

Kissing is an intuitive and instinctual act that involves touching or pressing one’s lips against a body part of another person or thing. It is a universal act not restricted to humans but is common among animals as well. In general, a kiss is used as a way of greeting or to show affection. While a kiss can be a very natural or normal thing to some people, others consider it taboo or inappropriate especially if done in public. But then again, it depends on the type of kiss. 

People kiss in different ways and for different reasons, depending on one’s culture and context. It is therefore important for people to learn different kissing cultures and customs to prevent misunderstandings, misinterpretations or conflict.

What Is the Origin of a Kiss?

Nobody really knows where, when, or who started kissing. Anthropologists, however, theorized that kissing is both instinctual and intuitive, which means it is inherent among humans or living creatures. Still, others believed that the act of kissing evolved from the biological function of mothers to feed their babies by chewing and passing food through their mouth.

The earliest record of the kissing act, however, was found in the Vedas, an ancient Indian religious text around 3,500 years ago. Passionate kissing was first illustrated in the Hindu epic the Mahabharata. The kissing act was also mentioned and described in an ancient Sumerian poem, and ancient Egyptian love poetry. 

In classical Greek culture, which is considered as the foundation of western civilization, kissing was considered as a Persian custom. Men of equal status kiss each other in the mouth to greet each other. Those who are not equal, kiss on the cheeks.

The Christian bible, which is also another historical text, also mentioned the notion of kissing in Genesis when Isaac called upon his son, Jacob, to kiss him to get his blessing. In the New Testament, on the other hand, Paul’s letter to the Romans contained an instruction from St. Paul himself for his followers to kiss each other on the cheek as a greeting tradition among Christians.

What Are the Different Types of Kisses?

There are different types of a kiss, which vary in terms of where the lips touched, what the kiss is meant for, what body parts are involved or how long it is performed. 

Hand kiss – As implied, this kiss involves pressing one’s lips against the back of the hand of another person. This kiss is a formal and traditional way for men to show a polite and respectful way of greeting a woman. The hand kiss is a Victorian etiquette given by a gentleman to a lady or a princess. This type of kiss is considered a chivalrous move to show admiration or respect. This tradition is maintained in countries like Poland, Russia, Austria, and Romania, among others.

Air Kiss – This kiss is a gesture that is performed by tightening your lips and leaning without necessarily touching another person’s cheek. Sometimes the sound “mwah” is uttered. This kiss can be used to say goodbye or convey endearment.

The air kiss is also used to prevent lipstick from sticking on a person’s cheeks. Some people prefer an air kiss to prevent contact and the transmission of disease especially if the kissing person has flu or carries some transmittable disease.

An alternate version of the air kiss is a blown kiss. In this case, a kissing person acts as if blowing a kiss to the person that is distant. This kissing gesture is used when the two people are away from each other.

Forehead Kiss This is a kiss to somebody’s forehead which symbolizes love in a non-sexual way. This is usually made by children to their parents or grandparents.

Eskimo Kiss – This kiss involves rubbing noses against each other to show intimacy instead of touching lips. This is how Eskimos, Polynesians, and Malaysians perform their kisses.

Lips to lips – This involves touching one’s lips against another person’s lips simultaneously and sucking each other to tighten the contact. This can involve a single lip on top of another lip or two lips. As a playful tease, this is essentially made by couples to communicate warmth and passion.

Smack Kiss – This is a quick kiss that involves pressing one’s lips against another person’s lips or cheeks. The smack which is performed between friends or relatives does not usually involve saliva but is purely a touching of one’s lips. 

French Kiss – This is a torrid kiss that involves full contact of the mouth including the lips, tongue, and saliva. This type of kiss is considered erotic to show passion. It also serves as foreplay for sex.

Although called a French kiss, this kiss did not originate from France. Some people believed that it is called a French kiss to associate it with the French capital of Paris, which is considered the city of love and romance.

Bite Kiss – This type of kiss involves gently biting each other’s lips, which is used as a means to tease or to show one’s overwhelming feeling or an irresistible urge to another person.

Cheek Kiss – This is one of the most popular types of kisses which involved pressing one’s lips to another person’s cheek, which is done among friends, family, partners, new acquaintances, and even strangers. The cheek kiss is not sensual or sexual but is generally used as a greeting to convey respect, happiness or just having fun.

Other Kisses – Depending on where a kiss is done, other types of a kiss can include a neck kiss, body kiss, earlobe kiss, feet kiss, stomach kiss, nipple kiss, booty kiss or even genital kiss. These types of kisses are ticklish and are usually performed to incite sexual acts.

Cheek Kissing in Different Countries

A cheek kiss is the most common way people greet each other in the western world. It is a way to acknowledge the presence, to show care especially among families and relatives, indicate friendship or express respect.

Depending on the context, a cheek kiss can also be a way to confer congratulations to the success of another person, to comfort someone sad or in grief or to show respect to an elderly or older relative.

Kissing however is not a universal way of greeting people. If you are meeting another person from a different country, it is important to know the cultural mean of a kiss so that you’ll know if it’s ok to kiss or not.

Europe

In general, Europeans use cheek kissing as a standard way to greet family, friends, and acquaintances in casual settings or social activities. In professional settings, however, like in business meetings or the workplace or office, a handshake is the formal way to greet. Kissing strangers is very uncommon regardless of sex and may be deemed offensive or as a sexual assault.

Moreover, kissing is usually restricted between a man and a woman or between two women. Men kissing men is not very common unless they are family. Men greet each other by shaking hands, hugging or tapping each other at the back.

In Greece, particularly Athens, a formal cheek kiss greeting is usually done twice, one for each cheek. The same is also true in Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and Romania. However, in Switzerland, Luxemburg and some parts of Belgium, three kisses are exchanged. The three alternate kisses on cheeks are also used in the Netherlands, Macedonia, and Slovenia.

In Sweden and Germany, cheek kisses are usually restricted among women and are not commonly practiced. Germans and Swiss prefer hugs than kisses for greeting.

In the UK like England, Scotland, and Ireland, a cheek kiss is acceptable but not widely practiced. Cheek kissing is considered a French practice and is common among middle and upper-class families. 

In France, Italy and some parts of Spain, men kissing men is common and acceptable, especially among close friends and families. The kisses are usually done twice. One on every cheek.

Africa

In Africa, cheek kissing is not a common greeting gesture. People don’t normally greet each other by kissing on the cheeks whether families or friends. Moreover, kissing in public and any form of affection between the opposite sexes is taboo if not forbidden.

However, in the westernized country of South Africa, cheek kissing is common only among women but not between the opposite sexes or between men.

In Egypt, cheek kissing as a greeting is acceptable between people of the same gender. This usually involves three kisses on the cheeks.

South America

In South America, cheek kissing is a common and customary form of greeting between the opposite sexes or between two women. This especially happens in social settings when two strangers are introduced to each other by a common acquaintance. However, kissing is not performed when you introduce yourself. Cheek kissing may be used as a greeting in a business setting when two people know each other well enough.

The number of kisses also varies in South American countries. One kiss on the cheeks is practiced in Mexico, Colombia, and Panama. Incidentally, in Ecuador, women are kissed only on their right cheek. In Brazil, however, two kisses, once on each cheek, are used for greetings.

Men kissing men is generally uncommon in South America. However, it is a standard practice in countries like Chile, Uruguay, and Ecuador. Kissing between males especially families and friends is used as means of greeting and congratulating.

North America

In the U.S. and Canada, cheek kissing is commonly practiced as a means of greeting and bidding goodbyes. It is usually restricted between women and between the opposite sexes. This can be a single kiss or two kisses on each cheek. Men, in general, prefer shaking hands to greet each other.

Asia

Asia is one of the most diverse continents in the world. In general, kissing between the opposite sexes is regarded as a sexual expression and should not be done in public.

Cheek kissing is very rare in East Asia and Southeast Asia. It is not practiced in China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, India, Thailand, and Singapore among others. In these countries, people prefer to greet each other by bowing or via a casual handshake. 

In the Philippines however, cheek kissing is commonly practiced. This may be done between the opposite sexes and between women among families and close friends. The cheek kiss in the Philippines called beso-beso, also involves a cheek to cheek touch instead of the customary lips to cheeks. 

Cheek kissing is a way of greeting is also a common practice in the Middle East especially in Arab-speaking countries such as Lebanon, UAE, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, among others. However, cheek kissing is restricted between men in conservative Islamic countries. Besides, kissing between the opposite sexes in public is forbidden unless they are siblings or are married. In more liberated Islamic countries like Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, cheek kissing is a common greeting between any genders, especially between relatives. Typically, the number of kisses can be two or three.

In Israel, cheek kissing is very common for all genders whether family or friends. The cheek kiss is also done once in every cheek. However, in Iran, cheek kissing is restricted to people of the same sex and among family and friends. Cheek kissing between the opposite sexes in public is a punishable crime.

Some Tips Before Kissing

Be sure the person you kiss wants to be kissed. While a kiss is initiated by a single person, it requires two people to consummate a kiss. Before performing a kiss, make sure that the person you want to kiss wants to receive the kiss. A person who is willing to receive a kiss, will usually face you or lean forward or put one’s cheeks. Gestures such as stooping, bending, turning around or making faces are tell-tale signs that a person does not want a kiss. It would be awkward if you continue with the kiss.

Ensure your breath is fresh. Bad breath is always a major turn off. Because kissing primarily puts your face next to another person’s face or cheeks, you need to make sure that your breath smells good. Before doing a kiss, avoid eating smelly food, smoking or drinking. You can also brush your teeth or gargle a mouth wash. You can also opt to keep mints, breath freshener or candy on hand so that you can easily pop out one before kissing.

Incidentally, kissing with bad breath is against the law in some places. In Alexandria, Minnesota, for instance, a man can get jailed for kissing a woman including his wife if his breath stinks.

Maintain good hygiene and smell nice. Aside from your breath, it is also important that your overall scent is good. Kissing involves getting close to another person. There’s a good chance that the person you are kissing can smell you. It is therefore important to smell good, to make the kiss more pleasant and to make the right impression.

Position yourself correctly. You need to be close to the person you will kiss. If you are introduced to someone, you may need to step forward to reach the person you will kiss. You cannot lean three feet away else you might fall to the ground. You also need to face and look at the person you will kiss. Else, you might look awkward and inadvertently kiss the eyes, or other areas which may be embarrassing.

Go smoothly. A kiss should be done slowly by gradually closing in your face to the other person. If you do it abruptly, there is a high chance that you can bang your face against the other person and get hurt.

Use Your Hands. You are free to use your hands to kiss a person. This will help you to control your distance or accompany the kiss with an embrace. In case of a fervent kiss, you can use your hands to add passion by holding hands or caressing or squeezing the body of your partner.

Avoid using your tongue. Unless you are doing a French kiss with your partner, you should go easy in using your tongue to kiss people. The use of the tongue for kissing is usually confined among lovers. Unless you are a couple, the use of a tongue and leaving your saliva to another person when kissing is not appealing.

Shave your face. Although not really necessary, some women prefer men who are shaven because they find it itchy and uncomfortable when hair touches their face or cheeks. In the state of Indiana, men with mustache are even prohibited to kiss another person.

How Long Should the Kiss Be?

Friendly kiss greetings are generally short. It would involve a split second of pressing your lips to another person’s cheeks. After this, the kissing person would normally step away to give the other person space. This is especially true among families, friends, and acquaintances. 

Long kisses are usually meant for couples or lovers. Depending on how passionate they are to each other, a kiss can run incessantly for up to 10 minutes. However, kissing nonstop for over 30 minutes can cause bruises in your lips. 

Are There Gender Dynamics in Kissing?

Yes, gender plays an important role in kissing. Kiss greetings between the opposite and the same sex may or may not be acceptable in different cultures. In general, friendly kissing between men is very limited to countries like France, Italy and some countries in the Middle East like Israel, UAE, and Saudi Arabia. While kissing between women is more common practice, men usually prefer shaking hands to greet each other.

While passionate kissing between the opposite sexes is tolerable in some countries, some countries consider it vulgar. Most conservative countries proscribe it and consider it punishable by law.

Passionate kissing between two people of the same sex is generally not conventional. Although some liberal countries that have adopted same-sex marriage find it tolerable, same-sex passionate kissing (men to men or women to women) in general is not acceptable and are even banned in countries where discrimination of the LGBTQ community is still prevalent.

Where Is Kissing Forbidden?

Torrid kissing is usually forbidden if done in public. Some countries like Japan, China, and many African countries considering kissing as a romantic act and should be confined in a private place. While these countries can tolerate kissing in public, other countries have strict laws that make kissing in public unlawful and punishable. Public kissing between couples is considered illegal in India, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

It’s not only in Asia where kissing can be prohibited. In Colorado, USA, for instance, it is outlawed for a man to kiss a sleeping woman.

Is Kissing Children Acceptable?

Kissing children is common across the world. Parents kiss their children especially babies and infants to show their affection. Children themselves love being kissed because they know that their parents or brothers/ sisters care about them.

While kissing babies and infants in the lips is fine, it is not advisable for adults to kiss older children in the mouth especially those reaching puberty and sexual maturity. This is especially true for strangers in consideration of pedophilia as it may constitute sexual harassment. Some people also find it inappropriate if not incestuous for adult family members to kiss adolescent children in the mouth. Kissing in the mouth is generally considered to involve sexual romantic love which is different from the kind of intimacy that family members shares.

What Are Some Popular Customs That Involved Kissing?

The Kissing Bench. The kissing bench of Syracuse University in New York is believed to certify the marriage of student couples who kiss on the bench. Student couples who kissed on the bench are believed to eventually marry in the future. 

The Kissing Post. The kissing post in Ellis Island’s registry room is believed to symbolize liberty, family reunion and a new beginning. The post has become a common area where processed immigrants joyfully meet and reunite with their families, kiss each other and start a new life in the States. Reaching the kissing post signifies that you have successfully gone through the emotional and painstaking process to migrate and live in America.

Kissing the Blarney Stone. The Blarney Stone in Ireland is a stone underneath the ramparts on the bulwark of the Castle of Blarney. For over a hundred years, people, including world leaders, are visiting the stone to kiss it because it is believed to bring good luck. To reach the stone, you need to lie on your back and slide yourself downward while grasping the iron rails. It is believed that you will receive the gift of eloquence if you kiss the stone. You can be a convincing speaker and can win people and business deals. The gift of eloquence was a trait of Dermont McCarthy, a former ruler of the castle, who was able to talk his way out to prevent Queen Elizabeth I from seizing the castle. 

Kissing the Bricks. Kissing the bricks in the Indy 500 is a tradition made by racers especially winners to pay homage to the legendary history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was started by NASCAR champion Dale Jarrett in 1996 when he won the Brickyard 400.

Kissing the Ground. Kissing the ground is used as an act of reverence to superiors or nobilities in Africa. Some African tribes like the Abyssinians show respect to their chief or superiors by kissing the ground. In Siam and Ceylon, people throw themselves to the ground where the chief has walked.

Kissing under the Mistletoe. Mistletoe is a Christmas decoration that is hang up indoors, kitchens or any corners during the yuletide season. In Western countries like the US, men who catch women under a mistletoe are given the privilege of kissing her. According to legends, a goddess named Frigg blessed the mistletoe plant and promised that whoever passed under it will receive a kiss. She blessed the mistletoe plant because his son, Baldur was killed by an arrow made of mistletoe.

New Year’s Kiss. In most western countries, people get to kiss someone at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. Kissing someone promises a year of happiness or romance. Otherwise, not having anyone to kiss on New Year can be the potential year of loneliness.

Fortunately in Scotland, that superstitious belief will not happen. In the Scottish party Hogmanay, which is the Norse or Gaelic equivalent of New Year’s Day celebration, people need to kiss everyone in the room when the midnight bell strikes.

Wedding Kiss. In many countries across the world, the newly married couple kiss each other at the end of their wedding ceremonies. Since it’s not part of the actual ritual, some believe that this was derived from the Roman tradition in which a kiss in marriage consummates or seals the legal contract. Some Christians however, consider it a symbolic act in which the couple becomes one. Still, others believe that the wedding kiss is performed to publicly show that the two previously single people are now officially a couple. 

During the reception, the newly-weds are also called upon by visitors or guests to kiss each other every time they ring a bell or clang their glasses with a spoon or fork.

Full Moon On The Quad. Described as an orgy of interclass kissing, this University-sanctioned kissing tradition at Stanford University involves senior upperclassmen kissing female freshmen and sometimes exchanging roses, cards or even dates. This tradition is one way to welcome freshmen as well as a social event for students to meet and know each other.

Omed-Omedan Festival. This kissing festival in Bali Indonesia is a celebration of love and new beginnings. It involves teenagers dancing and kissing each other while people spray them with water. The kisses vary from a timid cheek kiss to a torrid French kiss. The annual festival is believed to bring prosperity and good health to the people.

Christian Kissing. Christians use kissing as an expression of respect and honor or as an act to glorify or to show compassion and absolution. Orthodox Christians kiss icons or images of saints, Jesus or Mary, as a way to venerate them. It is not an act of worshipping idols but an act of adoring the saints which the images or icons represent. 

Kissing of feet among Orthodox Christians (i.e. Catholics) is a symbolic act of humility. Although not commonly practiced on a daily basis, this act is performed by priests as a ritual in the “washing of the feet” ceremony during the Holy Week of the Lenten Season.

Judas’s kiss is also a Christian term for betrayal. This is derived from Judas’ kissing Jesus to pinpoint him as his master for the Roman Guards to arrest which will eventually lead to Jesus’ crucifixion.

Catholics kiss the ring of the Pope, the head of the Catholic Church and the Bishops, to show respect and veneration. The Pope and the bishops are believed to be representatives of Jesus, who have dedicated their lives to spreading the good news. Peter is believed to be the first Pope. 

As shown in the above discussion, kissing is an act that can have diverse meanings in different cultures, countries, and contexts. From an expression of love or betrayal to an expression of respect or passion and lust, a kiss is one of the most meaningful unspoken gestures that people use to convey different feelings and emotions.

Matthew Ryan

I'm Matthew Ryan, one of the guys behind MannersAdvisor.com I am passionate about the world of good manners, etiquette and proper behavior to have on any special occasion. Here I decided to share my passion with you!

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