June 20, 2020 ·

Getting Cheeky in Argentina: How and When to Kiss People in Buenos Aires


cheek kissing

Kiss once Kiss twice or simply a hands shake?

(Aside from the obvious answer of whenever you can and however you want…)

In Argentina, it is customary to give certain people a beso, or kiss, on the right cheek when you say hello or goodbye. If you are not expecting this to happen, or don’t know that it is a thing down here, you will definitely be caught off guard the first couple of times that it happens. The first time it occurred to me was with a very attractive Argentinean friend-of-a-friend. Right afterwards I was surprised by her forwardness and wondering when she would give me an actual kiss. When another one of my friends showed up and she did the same thing I was devastated. We had barely started our relationship and she was already kissing other guys. Furthermore, when one of her male friends came over to introduce himself and he kissed me I had no clue what was happening. Was this the most promiscuous culture in the world?

I was enlightened by a friend who explained to me how Argentineans, both male and female, give each other un beso when they meet friends or friends of their friends – they also greet family the same way – with a little kiss on the right cheek.  My next mistake came the next day when I tried to give a kiss back and actually kissed a woman’s cheek with my lips.  It turns out that you give people a little mock kiss, sound and everything, but don’t make physical contact other than cheek to cheek.  She took it well but I felt pretty awkward.

Once I mastered the cheek to cheek approach, I had to figure out what to do during the kiss with my hands. Place it on their left-shoulder, back, handshake, butt, or dangling dead-arm approach?  No matter how I approached the kiss the right arm seemed to forget what to do and would just drop in between us like a scared dog’s tail retreats between it’s hind legs. My hands wanted to get in the mix but they had no proper place. My current approach is to gently rest it upon the other person’s left shoulder and let my left hand hang to the side.  This has become perfunctory with Argentineans, but when I see or meet people from other countries things get awkward all over again.

Where I am from most people give each other hugs when they see one another. Usually, there is an awkward moment after we say hello where each person is trying to determine whether to go in for the kiss or not.  This is funny to watch as a spectator as both sides seesaw back and forth until they have a quick and embarrassed kiss or just give up and hug or shake hands. When I meet someone from the United States I will sometimes throw in a reflex hug after the beso. This is a sure-fire way to confuse people since they won’t be expecting it and will be pulling away from the beso.  It also lets both of my hands do something but can be received unsatisfactorily and I don’t recommend doing it.

As a foreigner, it is very difficult to have smooth and comfortable besos, even if you know what to do. People here will most likely realize that you are a foreigner and they themselves will be uncertain of whether to give you a kiss or not.  Alternatively, other foreigners have a hard time determining if you have adopted the custom and will most likely just shake your hand, which is probably for the better.  It is a cheeky culture and takes some time getting used to, but after you’ve kissed enough strangers you will start to get the hang of it.

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