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!
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.
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.
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.
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.