Debate: A survey last week found that most Britons don't like social kissing. Quite right, says Celestria Noel; the whole thing's gone too far. Oh, lighten up, says John Walsh; where would parties be without it?

CELESTRIA

NOEL

THERE WAS a time when being kissed by a stranger was a noteworthy event which one might puzzle over afterwards in private, with delight or repugnance - what did it mean?

Now it is something which happens every time you leave a dinner party. People you've never met before and have not spoken to during the evening kiss you farewell on both cheeks. I have even been kissed on arrival by total strangers. It is not, in most cases, any kind of a come on, just a social habit which has got wildly out of control. I hate it for being invasive, indiscriminate and insincere and am glad to see a survey shows that 70 per cent of the British public agree. We regard it as a nasty Continental import. What's more, we have not really got the hang of it, any more than we naturally think in kilometres.

One side or two? Which side first? Should your lips touch the other person's flesh or is an airkiss best? In France last week, I met an 80-year-old family friend who managed to kiss me in the formal manner, inquire after my family and send me on my way in one seamless, dignified movement. Like peeling her fruit with a knife and fork it was something she'd done all her life.

Recently I was leaving church and bent towards another octogenarian, wishing to tell her some news. She clearly thought I was going to kiss her and, starting backwards like a frightened horse, she fled from me down the church steps, risking a broken hip. But other than taking to your heels how do you avoid being kissed?

My cousin Jane, who is phobic about it, lets the fact be widely known - she backs off firmly and finds her position is considered odd but generally respected. I envied one friend whose protective terrier went mad if anyone tried to kiss her. Putting out a pre-emptive hand is quite effective but some people use it to pull you towards them and do a sort of combined kiss and handshake. It seems rude to refuse to kiss someone - insinuating you find them smelly or in some way beneath you - but you have to draw the line.

Having to kiss teachers I had hated at school when I went to a reunion was particularly awful. In fact kissing other women is generally worse than men. Red, sweaty male faces looming up at drinks parties are preferable to perfectly made-up female ones which come at you with an implied threat - we have to kiss but make real contact and you die.

When you wish to convey real affection you now have to give the other person a bearhug; a mere kiss has become so devalued. I can't help thinking it is a pity that instead of adopting the French two cheek salute we did not follow the Polish custom. A courtly kiss on the hand, or rather just over the hand, has genuine charm.

Celestria Noel is a former social editor of `Harpers & Queen'.

JOHN

WALSH

OF 1,000 people asked what they thought of kissing as a way of saying hello or goodbye, only 13 per cent liked the idea. Just imagine: 800 people pursing their lips in disapproval rather than in affection. And they weren't alone. "It all seems fiendishly Continental," opines Peter York, the style ayatollah. "It leads to to confusion and people feel embarrassed," warns Mary Killen of the Spectator. Drusilla Beyfus, the other Gloria Vanderbilt of the Nineties, lays down the etiquette law: "It is impertinent to kiss ... the first time you meet. It is overfamiliar. It suggests..."

Oh lighten up, girls. Such fastidiousness about a mere gesture, a tiny pucker, a minimal noise. You don't have to join in. Nobody requires you to kiss if you don't want to; the worst you have to fear is to be kissed by a stranger - to be the recipient of an impulsive, but supplicatory, gesture which should be taken as the tribute of an admirer, rather than some unhygienic Froggy insult.

A kiss is an expression of fondness, of complicity, of mutual respect, a small abbreviated private contract. It means: we're friends; or should be; or will be. These high ideals can seem devalued at fashionable London parties, when people don't quite know what to say after the initial fusillade of kisses, and haven't time to develop an actual conversation. But kissing has other uses. The party kiss buys you time, to remember names, to prepare conversational tactics and to establish the precise level of welcome or resistance detectable in the cheek of the kissee. It signals a truce in hostilities, a mild intimacy, a new relationship, an exploration or a betrayal. There's a lot more going on than in a boring old handshake.

Chaps have rules. They know that you don't generally kiss female strangers on the first meeting, for fear of being thought pushy. You needn't kiss every acquaintance you meet. You don't kiss women in uniform - nurses, traffic wardens, pilots - or women colleagues at work, or lady acquaintances over 60, or Margaret Thatcher. Otherwise, you can kiss the female cheek with impunity as a sign of affection spilling over into physicality. Both cheeks. No ears. No corner-of-the-mouth malarkey. No tongues. Women, meanwhile, have a whole active-passive dichotomy to negotiate. They tend to kiss only men whom they find attractive. Otherwise, they proffer a cheek with a gesture that says, "You may..."; but whether to start with the left or the right, no one is quite sure.

Confronted by a man doing that preliminary which-side-first routine, my friend Rachel tends to lean forward and plonk a smacker straight on his lips. This ensures that she gets a) the upper hand and b) his undivided attention as he wrestles with the possibility that she may, must, fancy him. "I can't stand all that ducking and weaving," she explains, "I'm a busy woman".

For the rest of us, the social kiss is a sweet act of Lilliputian intercourse. It's a joint expression of warmth and loyalty, the first tentative conjoining of two faces, and the register of a dozen social subtleties. Don't let anyone try to stamp it out. What kind of formal prissiness would prevail at parties if the kissing had to stop?

John Walsh is a veteran of the literary party circuit.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

    £18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

    Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

    £40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

    £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

    £20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

    Day In a Page

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory