I did write a post about my first week in Argentina, but it felt stilted and it was giving me writer’s block, so I deleted it. For all intents and purposes, it never happened. Got it?
Alrighty then. The blog continues.
In Argentina, the typical way to greet someone is to touch your right cheek to their right cheek. One should note that it is ALWAYS the right cheek. If you decide to go to the left instead, you end up mirroring the other person’s movements and you’ll both bob heads like you’re performing a mating ritual. Sometimes people will grab your shoulders for balance, sometimes they’ll make a kissing noise, sometimes they’ll give you an actual hug, but one thing is certain: throughout the day, there will be tons of people trying to put their face all up in your business.
First of all, I am not a fan of touching people. Even a handshake used to be too much for me, never mind giving hugs (my aversion to hugging also has a lot to do with my sense of smell, which I talk about here). If someone touched me and I wasn’t ready for it, even by accident, the goblins in my head would start screaming for revenge. If I saw it coming or if I initiated it, I could usually prepare myself and behave like a normal human being, but Cthulhu help the poor soul who surprised me. Sometimes it got so bad that I would be scrubbing at my skin hours later because I could still feel the person touching me. My brother’s ex once made the mistake of hugging me when I wasn’t expecting it, and since then he’s been advising the people he brings over to deal with me the way they would an angry rhinoceros: approach from where it can see you and don’t make sudden movements.
Fortunately, living in China beat this little quirk out of me. There is no personal space in China, so I had to either adapt to the constant touching of other people or have a stroke. I still don’t enjoy touching complete strangers, but I think I’ve grown enough as a person so that it doesn’t upset me the way it used to. I still haven’t figured out why I’m like this. Was I abducted by extremely cuddly aliens at one point?
Even though I tolerate hugging now (old Hedgehog must think I’m some kind of hippie), it still took a while for me to get used to the whole concept of kissing hello. I still don’t fully understand it. I’ve met Mexicans in the United States who also do this, but the way it’s done here feels bit different. It seems like the kiss hello lasts a bit longer in Argentina, as if the people actually nuzzle your face for a moment before they break away. This feels REALLY intimate.
I have no idea how to initiate the kiss hello. Am I supposed to just go up to people and stick my face in their face? As an inherently awkward person, I constantly doubt my ability to behave around other people. If there’s a way to do this wrong, I’m sure I’ll find it. My solution so far has been to wait for other people to initiate it. If they don’t, then no awkward face kiss for them. I keep hoping that if I offend someone, they’ll forgive me because I’m a wacky foreigner.
The face kiss thing seems to be a requirement every time you greet someone and every time you say goodbye (for women, at least. I’ve noticed that men don’t always have to rub faces. Lucky them). If you’re with a group of people, that means an awkward face rub for each and every person in the group. This is not limited to close friends, either. Even if you’ve just met someone, that person will still expect a full on face nuzzle. One day, after an entire afternoon of having my face assaulted by other human faces, I went into the office for exchange students to ask a question. While I was there, a man stuck his head in the office to say hello and ended up staying to chat for a few minutes. When he finally said bye, he went to every single person in the office to do the face kiss thing before he left. I was standing by the door and as he came closer, I think I looked at him like, “You’re not going to kiss me too, are you?” I don’t think he had any intention of doing so, but because he was walking toward the door where I was standing, there was a lot of awkward eye contact and I ended up waving at him to reassure him that no face nuzzle was necessary (this guy ended up being my history professor. Surprise!).
Another thing: men with beards. The face nuzzle is awkward enough, but beards add more texture. This means that the right side of my face gets exfoliated every time a hairy man wants to say hi.
Once you get used to it, though, kissing hello creates a feeling of warmth and affection that you just don’t get from a handshake. I might actually miss it when I go back to the States.