Settling into a new country takes time, learning the social pleasantries and cultural ways is part of the process of integration. I have been here a while and try hard but as I discovered last week I am still getting it wrong. I think I am doing well and then woops another gaff!
We all know that social protocols and social greetings differ. We all know it can be difficult at times. I travelled and worked in a few countries and have learnt it mostly the hard way. It is hard to moderate the behaviour, that you grew up with, to suit another life. However when I moved to Spain being a pretty extrovert British woman I thought embracing the local customs and settling into a more open relaxed way of life would be easy. I figured I was a little bit more Mediterranean even Latino than many of my British counterparts and the warm greetings, hugs and kisses would be a synch…… however I have successfully proved over the years that it’s not that easy.
To kiss or not to kiss, that is the question
I knew that I should kiss people as a greeting when I arrived here but first I kept forgetting it was two kisses, I oscillated between giving one (so British) leaving my Spanish friends hanging in the air or went for four (as is the custom in my sisters area in France) leaving them looking molested. When I finally mastered the “double kiss” it took me a while to get used to remember who to do it too. In my confidence I embraced the kissing a little whole heartedly and it was only when I kissed my new boss, my GP and my gym instructor and saw their rather surprised/alarmed faces that I realised it needed refining! The final straw came with the semi naked kiss in the gym changing rooms…. I had to get this right!
Also In those first months I also realised that others saw me as a “nubie” and were taking advantage, one elderly man was regularly planting his real kisses (not air kisses) just a little tooooo close to my mouth! I also struggled with the international lifestyle, not with my lovely Spanish friends but with the other nationalities, I can’t remember the protocols. I noticed my male friends from the North would offer a hand as I’m puckering, or my UK friends at the airport who physically step back and whisper “oh gosh! oh yes! in Spain!” as I have lunged my warm continental greetings!
So am I am now there?
I know the rules; two kisses, not your boss, not in professional settings, not on first greetings, never in a towel in the gym, not to your friends from Northern climes, beware of other parts of Europe (they may want one, two, three or even four kisses) , go from right to left here (Italy is the opposite) and no actual kissing the cheeks. But still I’m not there! Last month as I met with a local dignitary of my town (who kindly is helping me with an inter cambio) I still managed to still get it wrong. I rushed into our meeting late, flustered and wasn’t concentrating and in my haste smeared a kiss right across his face noting the surprised look in his eyes as I passed! My problem is there is little I can do about being directionally challenged…… In my rush I got it wrong! I’m left hoping, that the fact that straight after I then knocked his coffee into his lap, that I may just have distracted him from the kiss……