Join our newsletter to receive updates.

Pucker Up!

By - October 13, 2005 (Updated: November 30, 2014)


I shift awkwardly from one foot to another.

I avoid eye contact.

“I had a great time, thank you,” I stammer.

I never make the first move.

Suddenly they lean in.

“Oh no, which side are they going for,” I ask myself, “and how many times?”

It’s the first kiss.

Canadians aren’t big kissers, at least not the Canadians I know.

If I meet up with a friend I haven’t seen in a while, I’ll give them a big hug. When I am introduced to someone new, I shake their hand. When I am leaving their company, I shake hands again.

I wouldn’t dream of kissing someone in a work environment situation. In fact, the only people in Canada I kiss, besides my husband, are very close family members.

Europeans seem to kiss everyone. However, there doesn’t seem to be a set of ‘standard kissing rules’. I am always worried that I am going to be embroiled in a kissing catastrophe.

My first kiss was in Amsterdam. Our patient Dutch friends explained that in the Netherlands, the traditional greeting is three kisses, starting on the right. The right-left-right kiss is repeated when departing company.

By the end of our stay in the Netherlands, I had this down pat. Then we arrived in Brussels …

As I observed the Belgian kissing practice, I couldn’t make sense of it. Some people were using the right-left-right, but others were only kissing once or maybe twice. Now what would I do?

Finally, over a glass of wine one evening, Andrew and I asked our neighbor to explain the kissing situation to us.

She said, for her, kissing varies depending on the situation. At her work place, everyone kisses twice. With friends, she is a ‘once-on-the-right’ kisser.

She conceded that the kissing situation could be tricky to outsiders. The closer to the Netherlands you get, the more frequent the right-left-right kiss is. Brussels seems to be two kisses territory, but a single kiss is popular in some circles as well.

One thing she was clear on — hugging is just plain out of the question.

Well, that cleared it right up for us …

And now that I’m getting more used to the kissed greeting, it doesn’t seem so awkward with other women — I usually just follow their lead.

When dealing with a member of the opposite sex, it can get a little trickier. As a typical Canadian woman, I tend to wait for the man to make the first move.

However, it seems more common for the woman to set the casual kissing boundaries here, and often the man is waiting to see what I will do.

So now, when I meet someone for the first time, I tend to stick to the good old North American handshake. If at the end of the evening together, my new friend goes in for the kiss, I go with it. Otherwise all they get is a smile and a wave.

If you like this, you might like:

Alison Cornford-Matheson
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
Alison Cornford-Matheson
- 3 months ago
Go top