For readers who have followed me for several years, it is a known fact that when my life gets hard (aka, I’m thinking that a nice, summer tour of the grand canyon without sunblock or water sounds awesome) I go underground. I stop writing. Eating becomes discretionary. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have encounters that are seriously irritating. Let’s talk about air kissing for just a moment, shall we?
Yes, air kissing. This social habit that came overseas from our civilized European counterparts.
Here’s my issue. It’s all about the invasion of my personal space, the familiarity of someone kissing me that I barely know, or don’t know, or have just been introduced to that bugs me out. My reserved, puritan ancestors knew that our one-space is an invisible line, only to be broken by a short, thrust of a hand. It’s worked for a thousand years
this is what I visualize when someone comes in for an air kiss
and it still works for me.
Yet time and traditions were passing me by, for as I remained a mole at my own house, having kids, writing, and being less than social, this phenomena had taken hold, like a contractable disease jumping from one person to another with each hen-peck. Little did I know that signing off my emails with an xoxoxo to my relatives (or the few non-relatives that I totally adore) didn’t count.
The moment of truth came when I got on a plane to Los Angeles and entered the world of air kissing. It was as though the handshake had given way to an air-kissing otherworld. A director meets me for the first time, leans in to me, arm touching the center of back and plants one on my check.
It was odd. I’m unprepared. Do I kiss back? Do I turn my head? Do I touch his back? He was tall and good-looking, and I briefly wondered if I was stepping over the line of marital infidelity if I enjoyed the act. I instinctively pulled back, catching the glance of the one man I knew (my producer) who clearly enjoyed my discomfort. The evil man then proceeded to introduce me to the others in the room, knowing exactly what was coming.
Several other men and their lips came careening towards me. My inner Swede rebelled. This wasn’t a family gathering, a wedding or a funeral. It was a business meeting. We didn’t know one another, and with the exception of one person I’d worked with, wasn’t even sure if I was going to like these cheek-invaders by the end of the day. Didn’t they know my cheek was reserved for a scant handful or special individuals??
It got me thinking-what if everyone in the high tech world started planting kisses as a way to start a meeting. Can you imagine? Hi, my name’s Steve Balmer, smooch my cheek. The Googlie’s and Microsoftie’s might get more softie if each gathering started with smoochies. It could devolve into a group hug-fest.
I had visions of air kissing spreading across industries, job sectors and vocations like the ebola virus running amuck. This begat a business opportunity, (for us Swedes are opportunistic along with prudish). Cheek wipes. The packaging could be blue and red. Skulls and crossbones. Breastcancer pink and Lance Armstrong yellow. Living free implies absence of disease, and I’m all about no lip-yick from strangers.
And another thing, it’s always the ‘right’ cheek. Who established this as the protocol? By the end of the first day in LA, the first epidural layer of my right cheek had been kissed off.
I took note around me. The restaurants were full of individuals greeting one another, cheek to cheek, lips sort-of touching sideways, full of the strange, TV-love that doesn’t mean much. Heck. If I’m going to kiss someone, I want them to feel it.
This inspired another thought. Kiss devaluation. It’s like the dollar against the Yuan, it’s been so overused and slighted, the value has plummeted, causing an emotional deficit. My ah-ah moment came when I then connected the dots from kiss devaluation to the overall moral decline in society. With the kiss worth nothing, one must naturally move to the next step that’s meaningful. For lack of a better analogy, first base…second base….
I made it through the latter hours in Los Angeles by releasing my inner Swede. I took control. I put my foot down and erected my protectionist barriers. When a tall, hedge fund manager with a diamond-encrusted watch the size of a pancake on his wrist made his forward-leaning play, I stepped back, thrust out my hand and said,
“Nice to meet you,” before turning and sitting down. It was rude, I know. But he had two things going against him—potential blood diamonds and association with the phrase hedge fund. Using similar tactics, I made it through two more sets of interactions. I thought I was in the clear when I got up to leave for my flight. Four men were sitting at the table, and in a unifying show of politeness, they all stood.
“Oh, no,” I protested, waving for them to sit. “Don’t get up for me. It’s not like we’re on a date!”
The aforementioned friend nearly choked on his tongue with laughter. It just came out, and before I could cover my faux-pa with a nicer comment, the first man came in for the goodbye hug, saying he “Wasn’t going to let me getaway with that.” As I’d grown to like this particular guy in a platonic-business-type-of-way, I was OK with the air kiss that time, though I still slightly turned my head. I didn’t want to risk contact-by-lip. Didn’t matter. They came one by one like mourners at a wake.
Once back in the safe cocoon that is my ‘hood, I’m comforted that air kissing is likely limited to the transplants from the east coast, LA or Europe. But I did come up with a great excuse. “Sorry, just getting over a cold.” The hand is retracted, the forward momentum stopped–it’s awesome. From now and for the rest of my life, I’ll be the sickest person you will ever meet, but my lips will be luscious and pure, which is all I want.