Dos Besos—And Why I Prefer Spain’s Meet and Greet

Dos Besos?

When I first started spending time regularly with Spaniards, I was always a bit nervous about the whole “kissing” thing. I find hellos and goodbyes to be rather awkward, and this idea of formalized greetings scared me. Not anymore. Later on, I’ll explain to you why I actually prefer the Spanish method of greeting friends and family.

I’ve been thinking about this topic lately, since my Spanish in-laws will be learning the American way of doing things veryyyy soon!

Quiz time!

When you meet someone in Spain, do you …

               a) Shake hands
               b) Give them two cheek kisses
               c) Give them three cheek kisses
               d) Hug them
               e) All of the above

The answer, as you might have guessed, is complicated. But it involves a combination of a and b. Never c, and most likely not d either (although there are exceptions). I’d like to present to you the rules, as I’ve come to understand them. (Note: customs may vary by region, city, and family.)

1. Are you meeting this person in a business situation?

If you’re going in for an interview, say, you’ll want to avoid giving the interviewer dos besos, as an interview is a formal situation, and it thus requires formal behavior. A firm handshake is called for in this situation. Nonetheless, you’re not going to give you coworkers or boss a handshake every time you see them, just like in the US. A handshake is reserved for the first time you meet someone.

Conclusion: Just say no to dos besos in this case!

Note: In Spanish, the verb conocer is valid for “to know” and  “to meet,” so you’ll have to say “conocer por primera vez” if you want to clarify if you “know” someone or are meeting him/her for the first time.

2. Are you male or female?

Males get off easy—they don’t have nearly as much work to do in social situations. Males don’t kiss other males; they only do dos besos with females. We women have to give dos besos to our female friends and our male friends! Harrumph.

Men in Spain also totally do the handshake/one-armed hug thing. So manly, so very manly.

Man Hug

[Art of Manliness]

Conclusion: Females are more kissable than males.

3. Are you family?

What I said about guys only giving cheek kisses to women holds up—if it’s not your dad, brother, uncle, etc. Then everyone gets dos besos!

Conclusion: Your family members deserve a good smooch from time to time.

4. How old are you?

Children in Mario’s family tend to give one kiss (an actual kiss!) until a certain age, and suddenly now the 12-year-old son of Mario’s cousin is up to two, non-kiss cheek kisses! Sigh. He’s so grown up.

Spanish flower girls

That sassy girl on the right is María, Mario’s cousin’s daughter and my English student. She gives me one cheek kiss when I see her.

Conclusion: Children are the more benevolent beings.

5. How long has it been since you last saw the person?

This is a complicated one, and one I’m still trying to understand completely. I know I will need to give my in-laws dos besos if I’m visiting Zamora or when they head over here (so soon!). If I’m staying at their house, of course, I won’t need to give them dos besos every time I see them; that would just be absurd! But sometimes I’m not sure, so as the foreigner I just let them make the first move!

Conclusion: Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

6. Are you congratulating them?

After a couple gets married in Spain, there are no “receiving lines.” Everyone goes up to the bride and groom. The bride, being female, gets dos besos from everyone; the groom gives dos besos to all the women and to his male relatives. Whew! Complicated? Not really.

Dos Besos Spanish Wedding

My dad is hugging the woman. This is obviously a breach of Spanish etiquette!

Conclusion: Weddings make everyone want to pucker up!

But do you actually kiss the person?

Put simply, no. You merely touch your right cheek, then your left cheek, to the person you are greeting—or congratulating. You may even wish to make the kissing sound. (It sounds weird when I say it, but it seems so natural when I do it.) But I do not kiss anyone. However, some of Mario’s older relatives (an uncle and an aunt, if I recall correctly) actually kiss me on the cheek. Because they are older, I don’t find this weird. If they were, say, my age … then I’d find it a bit unnatural.

What do you say?

When I meet someone for the first time, I always go with a good old “Encantada”—literally “Enchanted” and short for “Encantada de conoverte”—meaning “Nice to meet you” in the feminine form. (For males, it would be “Encantado”.) You could always say “Mucho gusto,” meaning “Pleased to meet you.”

When I see a friend or an acquaintance, I usually start off with “’¡Hola!” or “¡Buenas!” or “¡Buenos días!” depending on the time of day. Then, to ask how he/she is, I say, “¿Qué tal?” or “¿Qué tal estás?” meaning “What’s up” or “How are things going?”

Claro, there are myriad different ways to say hello and to chat in Spanish. These are just a few examples.

So, why do I prefer Spain’s version of the meet and greet?

Simply put, I like the rules, the hard-and-fastness of them. There is an agreed-upon set of mores and norms for me to follow, and I appreciate that. One of the things I disliked in high school and college was the hugging thing. Like, is that girl going to hug me? Should I hug her? Ugh, awkwardness.

Nowadays, the situation gets a bit complicated when you introduce American women into the Spanish scene. Some do dos besos with everyone, American or not. Some do the more “American” hug between friends. Others do nothing. Being the awkward person that I am, I never know what to do, because every American woman I meet is a toss-up.


When to give dos besos flowchart

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  1. I like dos besos because I get to kiss a lot of girls that wouldn’t normally give me the time of day. My (Spanish) wife was shocked when she heard about American greetings and I told her “in the States, the only people guys kiss are their significant other, their mom and their grandma”. And then there’s that awkward moment in the States when a guy meets a girl and doesn’t know whether to shake or not and just ends up waving and saying “good to meet you!”.

  2. In the spring I went for an interview and without brushing up on Spanish Interview Etiquette 101. It was extra-tricky maneuvering since the company is British but hires mainly Spanish employees! I just let the others lead, and ended up hand-shaking two people (a British man and Spanish woman), while another Spanish woman warmly pulled me in for dos besos. Confusing? A bit–but now I know to expect more hand-shaking in the office environment.

  3. Haha I love this. I totally agree… What happens when you’re two American girls in Spain meeting for the first time? Hug? Handshake? Wave? Dos besos? So many optionnnns. The safest bet is probably going for dos besos as we’ve probably both grown accustomed to it.

  4. The algorithm is pretty simple for women. :-)

    I, too, have been converted to the “hugging is too intimate!” Spanish mindset, which seemed backwards before.

  5. Funnily enough, a lot of people in New York/New Jersey actually give one cheek kiss in greeting IF you know each other very well. (I think this is because of all the Italians in the area. But it’s not just Italians who do it!)

    I was born in NJ, and my dad, step-mom, and little sister all live there. I get cheek-kisses from family, family friends, and long lost acquaintances (male and female) when I visit, but NEVER from any non-relative my own age.

    Like you said about high school and college hug, the cheek kiss causes a lot of awkwardness. I don’t always know when I’ll be getting one, so hugs are super ambiguous and there’s a lot of confused face-bumping. I’m completely on board with the consistency of dos besos!

  6. I think growing up with a Southern African American(thanks mom) family, the same rules kinda applied, so in Spain it was no real adjustment for me. When my friends came to the states to visit they were kissed and hugged even beyond their wildest dreams ha ha. Now the Northern side of the family well… lol!

  7. I remember the few times in which the American in me would take over and I would go in for a hug instead of the besos. The Spaniards would kind of freeze up and try to maneuver into “dos besos”. Awkwarddddd.

    I work with all Latinos now and, even though we are in America, it is kind of expected to give dos besos when we greet each other, leave work, etc. I don’t hate it, although after a long night at work, sometimes I don’t want people’s sweaty faces near mine! (We work in a restaurant and are always running around, hanging in a hot kitchen etc.)

    1. Your first paragraph reminds me of me last Christmas. I went to our local Mexican restaurant, and, seeing as the owner spoke to me in Spanish, I TOTALLY tried to give her dos besos … almost! I leaned down, and then realized the error of my ways. I ended up looking somewhat schizophrenic.

  8. That’s a beautiful wedding day photo of you!

    Good post. I grew up with the kisses-on-the-cheek custom because of my background, and going to Spain and seeing how everyone does it made me feel very comfortable! I feel as though when people do it, you can feel closer to them sooner as opposed to shaking their hands and it feeling very formal. Handshakes are very business-like to me.

  9. I love this blog! It’s super interesting! I learned a lot and it was quite hilarious at times. Especially the part about your dad hugging the Spanish woman and the 12 year old’s right of passage going from one to two non-kisses haha!!! GREAT stuff :) Keep it coming!

  10. This map is brilliant – I was nervous about thsi moving to Germany, too. I’m so used to it, and expect it, from Germans now, but it really throws me off if another expat goes in for the kisses still haha!

  11. I was wondering, when you stay the night at your in-laws place, do you give them dos besos when you wake up in the morning?

    For some reason, my sister-in-law always wants to give dos besos (or “faire la bise” in France) in the morning. It is usually when she reaches in for the dos besos that I realize that I had forgotten to give my mother-in-law the dos besos that morning. So I try to remember to kiss her in the mornings. But then I feel strange giving dos besos to my father-in-law every morning so if I come down and they are sitting at the breakfast table together…

    Do you give your in-laws the dos besos every morning?

  12. Something curious: I’ve found that when I meet other Americans in Spain, we do the two kisses, and it gets locked in. Years later, in Spain or in the States, we still keep greeting each other the same way.

  13. Love the flowchart!

    Having been back in the States for less than two weeks, I’m still reverse culture shock weirded out by our greetings, especially at big group gatherings. Handshakes and little waves just seem so awkward, and then there’s deciding whether you should hug someone goodbye or not. Let’s bring dos besos to the U.S.!

  14. In Spain men do give two kisses to other men.

    In my family me and my brothers kiss our uncle from my father’s family, it is something we always have done. Also we kiss my mother’s male cousins and their male sons from Granada when we see them every some years when coming to Murcia on holidays.

    Don’t ask me why because i don’t really know, but it might be because we appreciate each other so much, but we don’t get together often.

    With the rest of males in my family we don’t kiss them at all, it would be ridiculous and not natural as we see them often and there is so much confidence, so i just say hola (hullo, hello), como va todo (how things are going) usually with a pat on the shoulder or something like that.

  15. I prefer the kissing greeting too! Similar rules apply in France, and I really like the hard-and-fastness of it, as you said. In America I never know what to do! Hug? Hand Shake? Head nod? AAAAH.

  16. Aaaah I’ve been living in Spain for 3 years now and I STILL get all panicky about it all! There are certain friends who you know will come in for a kiss everytime you see them. And then there are others who know you are foreign and not used to it and so they hesitate – which makes it even more awkward!
    I have a very good Irish friend (girl) here though and we always give 2 besos. I don’t know, I don’t think being British helps in this situation! So awkward! Haha,

    Anyway, here’s my post about it from when I first moved to Valencia :)

  17. I’m spanish and I really don’t like the two kisses greating unless is someone you really care about; otherwise, it seems a bit artificial for me… , I’d go for the handshake greeting in that case.
    In my family, everyone gets two kisses except guys under 40 or so! I don’t know why, for instance, my boyfriend would greet my uncle or grandfather with two kisses but not my cousin, who’s 30…
    A remark: we say “Encantada de conocerte” and not “conoverte” ;) I suppose you already know that and it was a typing error.

  18. France pretty much follows the same rules with the two kisses. It’s called “la bise.” I grew up with it on my dad’s side of the family so I never thought it was weird.

    I feel more awkward with the American greeting because of the silly American hug. I’ll hug my mom all the time. I’ll hug my sister. I try to hug my dad but he squirms his way out of it (maybe the French in him?) I’ll hug my American family members (and kiss them on one cheek too).

    I don’t know why, but hugging friends feels awkward to me. I don’t know if it’s the prolonged physical contact or the invasion of personal space… I don’t mind hugging very close friends (I have very few BFFs so this list of friends is very small) but with the rest of them, it feels weird and insincere. Especially with people I’m not really close with but just hang out with because we have mutual friends in our circle of friends. Or friends of friends I meet for the first time and will probably never see again. Do I hug or not hug? I feel like a jerk if I don’t and they initiate it with a “Great to meet you!” Sure, but we just met, we don’t need to hug!

    Or maybe it’s just me.

    1. when i was in the USA in 2010 i was going to give the 2 kisses when i met the mother of the girl i was with….she gestured as if she didn’t want the kisses, but i did it. Of course i know that her reaction was because i was ill with fever and cough. Anyway i would not have felt well with a huge or handshaking.

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