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Monica Bielanko
A chronicle since 2005 of my marriage & move to Brooklyn in my twenties; becoming a mother in my thirties; moving to Pennsylvania and learning to amicably coparent after divorce in my forties while living 3 doors down from my ex-husband in a small country town.
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Tuesday
Jul112006

The Kiss... And Not Rodin's...Oh So Far, Far Away From Rodin's

I'm in the midst of a complex strategy to disentangle myself from a Kiss Hello program I've somehow entered into. I didn't sign up. There was no application. No opportunity to refuse. There was no agreement, no handshake. Oh that there were handshakes instead of all the kisses! One day we were casual acquaintances nodding our hellos, the next we were engaged in awkward, herky-jerky kiss hellos.

I don't know the gentleman in question very well. I see him at my neighbourhood bar. (HA! Look at that - neighbourhood. I am sooo British. Like Madonna, I'm currently speaking with an accent, you just can't tell because I'm typing. I figure I'm qualified for the accent now as I've just been on holiday in England) Anyway, back to the Kiss Hello chap in question - I know him from the neighborhood, see him at the bar, the subway platform and occasionally on the street.

Apparently, kissing is now not enough. Not only am I on The Kiss Hello Program, but I've managed to be included in The Kiss/Hug Hello Program as well! Somewhere in the middle of June our man decided his standard cheek kiss was simply not enough and pulled me in for a tight squeeze as well! No, before you ask, he isn't the sort trying to cop a feel, although there are plenty of those types 'round these parts as well - he's just an older, lonely sort of fellow - a friend of a friend, really - who is SUPER EXCITED! to hang out.

Most recently, The Kiss/Hug Hello Program was less than satisfactory, just not enough kissing and hugging apparently, and the fellow cornered me into a kiss/hug goodbye. Dude, I'll probably see you, like, tomorrow I'm thinking to myself while my intestines were being squeezed upward, through my espophagus.

Suffice it to say, as a part of my strategy, when I see this fellow coming I've suddenly got to tie a shoe, adjust my belt, pick my nose, whatever it takes. He'll make the rounds, kissing and hugging his way through the crowd.
"What's up, guy?" I'll say cheerfully while carefully adjusting my fish nets, rearranging chairs... You know - I'd just love to kiss you hello but I'm extremely tied up here counting the change in my pocket. Anything to avoid the unavoidable. I'm hoping to derail his program yet every time I see him again he goes in for the big squeeze.

It isn't the germs I'm worried about if that's what you're thinking. I just ain't into all the gladhanding. It's always bungled, floundering. Awkward. I'm already as socially retarded as Busta Rhymes at a proper English tea party.. I don't need the extra hassle..
Just kiss the guy hello for Godsakes! I can hear you thinking. But where does it stop? An intercourse hello (Seinfeld knows of what he speaks). Recently my friend Alexis stopped by the bar on her way home from work. After the requisite kiss/hug hello she decided she wanted to change into some jeans and ran to her home a block away. She was back in less than thirty, rolling her eyes at me over Dude's shoulder during her second kiss/hug hello in less than an hour. See!? My raised eyebrows told her in response. We're a few Kiss/Hug Hellos away from a Kiss/Hug/Ass Grab hello.. And then what?!

After my burdensome and seemingly insensitive strategy attempting to get off The Kiss/Hug Hello Program you can imagine my horror at spending the weekend in London, bungling the entire business with the inventors of The Kiss Hello, the Brits.

We Americans... well, we hug people we haven't seen in awhile.. The Brits, they're huge fans of The Kiss Hello, HUGE! You know, that high societyish double kiss.. Mwah, Mwah.. So of course every time I was introduced to someone there was the bobbing and weaving of heads, more awkward than two zit-faced teens with braces going in for their first smooch. Which side? WHICH SIDE! For the love of God, could somebody please tell me which side I'm supposed to kiss first? After the initial head dance was over and I'd committed to one side or the other I was left wondering if I should go in for the other side or just leave it at the one? Everyone's playing by different rules!

I'd mangled every introduction by the end of the week, trying every combination. After fucking that all up I finally decided to abandon The Kiss Hello and just tried to give the bride at the wedding a congratulatory, one-sided sort of hug. A shoulder squeeze, really. Chummy, but not too huggy. No chance of messing that up, right?

I bungled that, of course, because after going in for the squeeze I had to abort at the last second, realizing she was going for the kiss, so I ended up feeling her up then kissing her nearly on the mouth even before the groom got a chance at her on their honeymoon.

"Which side first.. And how many times?!" I asked my friend Kate after ranting about The Kiss hello in frustration.
"The French do it three times. One cheek, than the other, then back again." She replied.
"Well that's a fucking commitment, isn't it?" I muttered. "I could be finished with the obligatory small talk by the time they finish kissing hello."
"It's no coincidence making out is called french kissing" Kate replied breezily. "The Frenchies love them some kissing."
"Well, which side do I go for first here in London?"
"I don't know." She answered in an exaggerated English accent. "I just commit to a side and go for it. It usually works out all right. You just think too much about it, that's your problem." She took a drag on her Marlboro light and exhaled through expertly puckered lips.
"Well, yeah.. I think too much about everything. But The Kiss Hello is a social retard's worst nightmare. It's right up there with Small Talk."

My conclusion? The Kiss Hello, like it's American counterpart The Kiss/Hug hello or any other form of kissing and hugging hello is wrought with peril. And I'd just as soon forgo all of it. Unless, of course, we've hung out more than three times and it's been at least seven full days since I last saw you. Otherwise, I'd rather shake hands and swap poop germs. Bacteria, I can get over. Social awkwardness eats at me, leaves me more flush than the rash you may potentially pass me through a contaminated handshake.

Oh.. My hair is not brown anymore. Very, very far from brown. But if I told you what color it is now I'd have to kill you. Really, I would because the color, well it's.. it's.. eesh.. Let's just say if I told you I'd have to kill you so you could never, ever tell anyone.

Reader Comments (24)

Of course you've piqued my curiousity about the hair color (but I imagine that was the point) but I was a big fan of the brown - thought it looked fabulous.
July 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLaura
My boss was British, and after any sort of break we'd have to do the Kiss - my freaking boss! Of course, I also slightly knew him in a social context, so I wasn't just an employee to him, I was like a distant family friend who happened to make his photocopies. I, too, often wonder how I get roped into those kisses with people I barely know. Have you had the kiss on the mouth people? Ick!
July 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterEDW
OhmygodImsoashamed....

In this post, as Elvis Costello predicted, I've just been forced to face the deep, dark, truthful mirror.

My name is Brian, and I'm a kiss/hug hello person.

And the people say: "Hello, Brian."

But I only do it after at LEAST the 7-day absence. Is that okay? Am I only kidding myself?? Is it still a problem if somebody else starts it??

Oh, what will they say at the Kiwanis Club when they find out...
July 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterWry Bri
I am so happy to hear that you have a 'case of the Madonna's'...

Hang on tight to that Brit accent baby and use it anytime someone tries to kiss/hug combo you when are leaving your bar stool for the bathroom and then again once you have returned from said bathroom...

You just say, 'oh how I missed you while I was relieving myself of my pent up urine' *a la Madonna*...and then knee him in the balls...

That should solve your problems!

July 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterRichelle
there's a seinfeld episode where jerry faces this same grave dilemma. it's an excellent episode.

everyone, put your inquistions to bed. monica's hair is paisley. there. cat's outta the bag.
July 12, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterkasey
I'm a kisser & a hugger. I come from a long line of kissers & huggers...It goes along w/ the Italian heritage. I kiss & hug my friends if I haven't seen them in awhile. I kiss & hug some of my patients I've known for a long time. Hell, I even kiss & hug the fish lady at the supermarket.
Leo's family, however, are not kissers/huggers. But because they know I'm a hugger they always lean in to hug me, & it's always awkward. There's nothing worse than an insincere hug. I remember the first time my family met his. My dad laid a big wet one on Leo's mom's cheek, & I thought she was gonna crack.
Monica, did you join the red head club?
July 12, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterchrissy
My close friends like to hug when we leave one another. I like to hug. My mother ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS hugs my b/f when she see's him, whether it is coming or going. Kissing is OFF LIMITS!
July 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJen
I despise all those social niceties.

I generally flip my friends the finger and smile when I leave.

July 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJoe's a rude boy
Ah, yes, Londoners and the kiss hello. Guilty as charged I'm afraid, but in Europe three oh yes, and sometimes four. I've been foured in Switzerland which is too, too much. I do agree about the awkwardness though (sometimes, being far too eager to get it over with I have been known to painfully clang cheekbones, which hurts and once I nearly kissed an ex boyfriend's father on. the. mouth as he went the other way and how was I to know...) - I'd far rather shake hands. Or just smile... Or just say hello. What's wrong with a hello, hello?!
July 12, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterlottie
A few months ago I wrote a similar post about hugging. In it, I suggested we start a revolution and bring back the wave!! What's wrong with the wave? NOT A THING, thats what I say. The wave is friendly, endearing, engaging...it's downright NICE. AND, there are all sorts of variations on the wave. Think about it -- there's the open-hand-fingers-spread wave, the the clap-wave, the beauty quen wave. There are a MILLION waves. And they are all so much more sanitary than kisses and hugs.

So, who's with me?
July 12, 2006 | Unregistered Commentercitywendy
Agreed! I am all about the wave. None of this touchy touchy business with strangers. Give us a clue about the hair!
July 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterGemma
I think hugging is gross.

I think kissing on the cheek is classy.

Then again, I also think "using a condom" is classy.
July 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSicksadworld
I'm with Joe, the finger works for me, or maybe if in the mood the wave. That's it....Orange, yeah thats what I said. orange.
July 12, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermama
I skip the hug and kiss and go straight for the dry hump. It brings a element of surprise to the whole thing.
July 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBrian
After a while, though, the kiss becomes pretty automatic. To your left first, then right. (Or right cheek to right cheek, then left cheek to left cheek - same thing.)

The trick is in sussing if your person is a two or a three kisser. Never met a four. Most are twos. Belgians (usually the Flemish in my experience) and a few French seem to be the only threes, but people can be tricky, so you just watch after the second kiss: are they moving back, or staying in close? Staying in, and it's a pretty safe bet you've got a three kisser on your hands.

(Then there are the occasional one kissers. But since they seem to be uncomfortable with the whole concept, they usually pull back very quickly and start talking before you have a chance to move to the other side.)

Generally, not kissing is bad form and seen as rude. But there are those, who hear an American accent, think they're being polite and pull back, extending a hand. That's the most awkward moment - you're going in, forearms up, face out, and they're going back, with one arm extended stiffly, ready to impale you if you get too close.

Obviously, this is usually only an issue the first time you meet someone. After you go through the process once, you know if they're a one, two, or three. But I do know a perverse Belgian who seems to switch between twos and threes based on some formula that may be based on the cycles of the moon and the amount of change in his pockets for all I can tell. With him, you never know what you're getting into. And he seems to like it that way.
July 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterCraig
Kissing on the cheek is not classy. It's stupid and pretentious. I'm with Joe on this one.
July 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAimee
Welcome back from your holiday, Monica. My gay, male friends always hug me when they see me-- some do one kiss. I do wish everyone would do the same thing 'cause you never know what you're in for.

I was observing some Europeans in my pretty San Fransissy, and a group of folks who were just meeting each other for the first time did the double-kiss. It was just so automatic, and very much like a handshake; it really had nothing to do about how long someone had been away or affection or anything like that.
July 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKaren
FYI - Love that hair!
July 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterRichelle
in Switzerland - no kisses when you meet someone the first time. But afterwards 3 kisses and always 3... and it's left-right-left.
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterkiaora
I don't believe that you can say kissing on the cheek is "pretentious." Europeans have been greeting eachother that way for centuries. It's a tradition, not pretentious. I think it's a lovely way to say hello.

A lot better than the apathetic way most americans greet eachother like they could give a shit if you were there or not.
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnna
i was introduced to that whole kiss hello b.s. back in college. I stopped brushing my teeth to avoid the whole thing. Hugs, I can do. Fake cheek kissing, not so much.
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLiz
Anna, yeah we're apathetic, and really we couldn't give a shit.. Right Joe?
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermama
Can't get on board The Kiss Hello Anna.. unless it was you I was kissing hello.. Then, I might throw in a little tongue for good measure.

But it does feel pretentious. I feel required to say "hello daaaahling!" every time I do it. But shit.. I'm an ugly American to the nines. Loud, crude, lewd... Hate fakeness.. The kiss hello feels fake. P'raps that's because I was raised in a barn.. but still.
July 13, 2006 | Registered CommenterMonicaBielanko
I had a friend from college who left Alabama to live in New York City. After 3 months she came back for a visit and I took her out. Later in the evening one of my girl friends asked me, "What's with your weird friend? She just did the whole kiss-on-the-cheek thing with me." My stupid friend had been out of Alabama for all of three months but clearly decided she had become oh-so metropolitan and sophisticated now that she lives in the Big City.

It certainly depends on who it's coming from, but in this case, the Kiss Hello was DEFINITELY pretentious.
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered Commenteramanda b

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