Lynne Mortimer: Why I don’t like air-kissing

PUBLISHED: 08:30 20 August 2020 | UPDATED: 10:02 20 August 2020

Mwah, mwah. . . let's leave air-kissing to the French and Belgians, says Suffolk Magazine columnist Lynne Mortimer. Image: Getty Images

Mwah, mwah. . . let's leave air-kissing to the French and Belgians, says Suffolk Magazine columnist Lynne Mortimer. Image: Getty Images

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Has Covid banished the air-kiss? Lynne hopes so – it’s so not Suffolk

Social distancing – who knew it would play right into my hands?

As a proper Suffolk girl, I have little truck with insincere gestures of affection. Nothing gets my back up more than a “mwa, mwa” air-kissing event.

Unlike the UK, there are countries for which cheek-kissing is a national character trait. The French are well known for their double dipping – a kiss on each cheek, while my Belgian relatives in, perhaps, a show of one-up-personship go in for three. And that’s fine. It’s what they do (though maybe not currently) and it is courteous and lovely. But in Suffolk. . . well, kissing?

Of course, it isn’t unknown and is often inflicted on small children. I was brought up to endure various aunties and older relatives kissing me on the cheek – just once, thank goodness.

As they got close, you could usually smell what they had eaten for dinner, get a lipstick mark, a whiff of cologne, and experience the roughness of their moustaches – women’s and men’s. But at least it was not a total affectation like the bored double-peck that seemed to have become the norm. . . until now.

It probably worked its way to Suffolk from London. I find that is usually the case. The greeting doesn’t even require contact, thus the “mwa mwa” sound effect as people’s lips make contact with nothing but air.

I once had a phone call from a worried colleague who asked me (as the designated office agony aunt, ie oldest woman journalist in the building) how to avoid being kissed by strangers in social situations. She explained that there was a person she knew who would greet her with a kiss and when she was introduced to the woman’s companions – whom she had never previously met – they would kiss her too. My best advice was that she should extend her arm for a handshake when approached, thereby applying distance and avoiding unwanted lip contact.

Also a perennial problem with the unplanned kiss is knowing which way to go. I once turned my head to receive a kiss on the cheek from a boss and he turned the other way and gave me a smackeroo full on the lips. I had to consider whether it was an HR matter but decided it was merely a workplace mishap.

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The truth is, I don’t like it. I am very happy to hug people I love but I don’t want to be on random kissing terms with acquaintances. It’s just not what we do in Suffolk.

There is nothing wrong (in circumstances where social distancing is not an issue – maybe in 2022) with shaking hands. I expect its origins go back to times when men carried swords and thus taking someone’s hand meant you couldn’t draw your weapon. Or I might have made that up. A friendly greeting and a cheery smile is ample evidence you are pleased to see someone.

While I regret we must continue to observe social distancing, it might have the long-term effect of consigning the air-kiss to history. Its time, I hope, is up. There are enough conventions surrounding meeting people without this malarkey.

For example: “Hello! How are you?” (Trans: “Hello, lovely to see you. Don’t tell me how you are.”) Correct answer: “Fine, thank you, how are you?” (Trans: “I could tell you about my arthritic knee, my dodgy tooth and my bunions but I won’t because I don’t want to hear about your troubles.”) Then, having passed the risky bit, you can go on to talk of many things – of shoes and ships and sealing-wax, of cabbages, and kings. Mostly shoes, I find.

And on the subject of common courtesy, a while back, I received a letter from Rick Durrant, of Stowmarket. He writes that he has been a leader in the Scout movement all his adult life. “Times change and things move on but there were originally 10 Scout Laws, the fifth of which stated that ‘A Scout is Courteous’.

“Now courteous is not a word usually found in the vocabulary of your average 11-year-old boy. And so, during his induction, a new scout would be taken through an explanation of the 10 laws. On this occasion, in the 1950s – and this dialogue actually took place at the 1st Combs Scout Group – the youngster was asked by his Scoutmaster to give an example of what it meant to be courteous.

“’Well,’ said the prospective scout, ‘It’s like… when you give up your seat to old ladies in public conveniences.’”

Thanks for that gem, Rick. I shall remember it every time I board a public conveyance!

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