Should you air kiss or just shake hands? Perhaps the right answer should be—it depends on who you are greeting, for what purpose and in which culture.
Have you ever been confused when you greet an acquaintance who, instead of shaking your extended hand, starts pulling you forward to give you a kiss on the cheek? You are not prepared for this friendly greeting and are not particularly at ease with close physical contact. If your friend (someone closer to you) greeted you with a smile, a sincere hello and lightly touched your shoulders to pull you closer, then turned their head so that their right cheek touched your right cheek and made a light kissing sound—would this be more acceptable??? What if they repeated the air kiss by turning to your left cheek? Guess what – the cheek kiss in many circles has become accepted. Sometimes with a handshake AND air kiss.
Turning back the calendar to 1983, when I first visited Latvia, my relatives did not air kiss. We shook hands. In 1999, when I moved to Latvia, we did not air kiss. We shook hands. Then suddenly along with “ciao ciao” greeting and friends started to cheek-to-cheek kiss. Why? Is it because the desire to adapt more European traditions or to show a level of sophistication? Just in the U.S. and in the U.K., it is still acceptable to just shake hands among friends or to just greet with one kiss on the right cheek. They say that the French are adamant cheek kissers, twice, three times and more. From what I understand, it depends on the person and the region they are from.
When in doubt how to properly air kiss, I think it is wise to remember that sincerity, friendship and respect define the true purpose of this greeting. Rushing over to a friend with a “dahling, so good to see you, it’s been way toooo long” seems theatrical, over-the-top. (Šeit varētu tulkot: vai mīļa draudzenīte, nu beidzot, kur tad esi pazudusi).
During a reception, I often have to clean off the lipstick smudge of my husband’s cheek—obviously an overly enthusiastic air kiss. Another real-life situation is when there is a group of friends who should be greeted and what should you do? Air kiss each friend? Probably yes. In that group of friends, there is one new person—what do you do now, hmmm. A sincere handshake, introducing yourself would be just fine. Next time, it’s either air kiss or if they extend only their hand—you will know what to do.
When a gentleman kisses a lady’s hand, what then? Say “thank you” as though you are sooo humbled and touched by his kind gesture. Or, simply smile and return this hand kiss with a sincere hello.
In the end, there is one thing I feel strongly about. Avoid kissing on the lips. Should you see the person coming for your mouth, turn your head just slightly so their aim is near but not ON.