Cheek Kissing in Mexico

In addition to liking the Mexican custom of saying Provecho I also like the common custom of greeting people by kissing them on the cheek.

In Mexico the custom is to greet a person by kissing their right cheek just once. Let me clarify and say that men here don’t kiss each other on the cheek, they usually do a pat on the back kind of hug that is sometimes preceded by a handshake. But men will greet women with a cheek kiss. And women greet both women and men with a cheek kiss.

Not everyone gets a cheek kiss, only certain people in your circle are going to expect one. Neither my husband nor myself greets our housekeeper with a cheek kiss, it just doesn’t feel right. And usually I won’t greet someone I am meeting for the first time with a cheek kiss, but sometimes if they are young, or if we are being introduced by a close friend I will give a kiss to a new acquaintance. And we normally don’t greet neighbors with a cheek kiss because they are too familiar, we see them too often for it to be practical.

But when the person you are greeting is a friend or acquaintance usually a cheek kiss is in order. There are all kinds of cheek kisses and they mean all kinds of things. Some of the more memorable types of cheek kisses are:

~ The “I actually don’t like you but I’m kissing you to be polite” kiss. This one is usually given by and to women. It’s often given as just a “mwah” sound in your right ear, there’s not any touching of cheeks and usually there’s no pretense made to pretend to hug.

~ Then there’s the “I’ve got loads of make-up on (and/or a hat on) so don’t mess me up by touching me” kiss. This one also normally involves just a kiss sound in your ear with no cheek touching. But if there’s an accidental touch, and the person really does like you, they will apologize for the lipstick they just put on your cheek.

~ There’s also the “I don’t want your spouse/partner to realize I like you so I’m going to kiss you just a little wrong and maybe he/she won’t notice” kiss. This kiss is a little too emphatic, sometimes it’s too wet and sometimes it lands too close to the edge of your mouth and doesn’t make it quite onto your cheek proper.

~ But the very best kind of cheek kiss is the “It’s really good to see you” kiss. This is the only kiss that should take place imho. This is the one where you really mean it and they do too and both parties feel totally at ease.

I first learned the “It’s really good to see you” cheek kiss from my husband’s family and Mexican friends back when we were living in the U.S. So by the time I came to Mexico I was used to the cheek kissing custom.

Now, after 8 years of being around lots of cheek kissing Mexicans, I’ve found that greeting people with a cheek kiss is very simply normal. And when I travel back to the U.S. I gleefully inflict cheek kissing on my friends there, whether they are expecting it or not. And if they aren’t quite expecting it I cover my totally intentional cheek kiss by saying “I’m Mexican now, so I can’t help it.” Ha!

I think that the thing I really like about cheek kissing is that it softens the social edge between people, and it does so right at the beginning of the conversation. If you start off with a cheek kiss then you are starting with trust and mutual appreciation.

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16 Responses to “Cheek Kissing in Mexico”

  1. Fned
    June 2nd, 2008 09:00

    Haha, I know what you’re talking about. In France the policy is two cheek kisses, one on each side. Pretty much the same type of kisses apply just as you describe them, except here, the more you travel south in the country the more kisses you get! It starts with two, then three and by the time you get to Bordeaux you’re cashing in four kisses!!! The tricky part is figuring out when each apply!

    And then, when you travel to Mexico back to the one-only kiss system… that always leaves your other cheek hanging…. 😉


  2. Michele in Playa
    June 2nd, 2008 20:57

    I never greet our housekeeper with a kiss. You are right, it just feels wrong. Funny thing…our old housekeeper/babysitter will occassionally come to visit and she always makes a point of kissing and hugging me HARD. I think she does it to piss off our current staff. The day my current housekeeper actually CLEANS my house, I will plant a big wet one on her. (Little chance of that happening)

  3. RiverGirl
    June 2nd, 2008 21:34

    My housekeeper doesn’t clean well either. She’s reliable, shows up on time and doesn’t steal things. But today she left the hose running for an hour. And she’s afraid of using my vacuum cleaner…

  4. CancunCanuck
    June 2nd, 2008 22:24

    LOL, sounds like we all have bad housekeepers, but we do do the cheek kiss. I’d forgotten that you don’t do this NOB, I find when friends come to visit I just automatically do it and don’t think it’s weird til I see their faces and feel how awkward they are with it. It’s just become normal for me.

  5. Prodigal daughter/sister/friend
    June 3rd, 2008 18:05

    you know, i was thinking of another great mexican tradition…of using a person’s relationship to you instead of your name. you could argue that a name is more personalized, but really, by using relationship epithets, they are showing your importance to them. like when they begin an email with “Amiga, te cuento que…” or when they refer to their cuñadas y compañeros instead of using first names. except it goes a little too far when between brothers and sisters, they say “mi papa” instead or “nuestro papa” o just “papa”.
    do you get what I mean? or am i just being silly?

  6. wayne
    June 3rd, 2008 19:34

    I have been meaning to do a blog on the cheek kissing…as well as the handshake custom….but haven’t gotten around to it. I love the cheek kissing thing. It’s such a feel good thing. Thanks for sharing.

  7. RiverGirl
    June 3rd, 2008 19:36

    Yeah I do know what you mean. There’s definitely more of that here than there was in the U.S.

  8. Gary Denness
    June 3rd, 2008 21:09

    Along with ‘Provecho’ this is another activity where my uptight, cold, miserable, stiff upper lip, repressed Britishness exerts itself! One of the first things I teach my students is the handshake!

    Sometimes, I just prefer to be a spectator in Mexico. But I’m not completely repressed, I do join in some things. Football and Lucha Libre – I’m well at home. The damage it’s done to my Spanish language is immeasurable though. I must be able to name at least 40 things that one could do to someone’s madre! 🙂

  9. RiverGirl
    June 4th, 2008 10:49

    Oh Gary, Just give yourself time. I have plenty of repressed Brit friends who have recovered from their cold ways.

    Now enjoyment of Lucha Libre totally escapes me. I’m impressed by it, impressed that people happily watch it…I leave a blog post on Lucha Libre to you.

  10. lisaloveloca
    June 4th, 2008 15:35

    LOL@ Gary!! I wanna see a post where you list all of those things you could do to someone’s mother (not mine, back off).

    Rivergirl- I’m in total agreement with you on this, I dig on the cheek kiss and I do it in the states too.

    I had a friend recently come to visit and when I found her at the airport I automatically went in for the cheek and since she had no idea what I was trying to do to her she kept bobbing her head in avoidance hahahahaha it was a sight all right- I don;t think I actually ended up planting one on her either, I don’t think I even got a chance to make the noise or anything hahahahahaa!

  11. RiverGirl
    June 4th, 2008 16:28

    If people are unprepared for a kiss then they feel they have to get out of the way…you kind of have to tell them it’s coming I think.

  12. Gary Denness
    June 6th, 2008 14:08

    I’ve been here three years….travelling LA for more than 5….how much longer is it gonna take to defrost me?! 🙂

    I’d love to list all the madre words I’ve learned (and some that I’ve invented – Spanglish is just the best!) but my mum reads my blog…soooooo….


  13. RiverGirl
    June 6th, 2008 18:38

    I dunno Gary…some Brits thaw quicker than others I guess.

  14. mexpat
    June 16th, 2008 17:09

    I guess the kissing was all sorta natural by the time we moved down here having lived near NYC for 7 years where exactly the same kissing rules (and variations you listed) exist. I did have the kissing culture shock when I moved from the South to NYC, though.

  15. nutmeg
    August 15th, 2008 21:09

    I’m going to the Yucatan soon and will be meeting with some high up govt officials as part of the trip. What is the appropriate way to meet such people and how the proper respect? is it a handshake? anything else to be aware of? and I speak only English but will have a translator…anything particular it’s important to say/express?

  16. RiverGirl
    August 16th, 2008 11:43

    Nutmag – Yes there’s a handshake. And if you are female and the people you are meeting are male they may initiate a kiss on your right cheek, but they may not. Let them take the lead. Be sure to smile. Be sure to say “mucho gusto” after you are introduced (it means “nice to meet you”). Your translator will undoubtedly smooth things over for you. But if you smile politely that will make people comfortable.

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