Kissing as Greetings Customs are Geographical and Awkward

I’ve been meaning to write this blog for a very long time. You see, I am bi-polar— I mean bi-coastal —and I live in Houston most of the year, and then in New Jersey on the BEACH! for a big portion of the summer.

Being in New Jersey for long stretches and having a social life and a social group, I noticed something weird. To greet friends warmly there, it’s a quick kiss on the lips.

In Houston, where I have lived for most of my adult life for 34 years, the standing custom is a kiss on the cheek. You turn to the side of the face and never really make lip contact with the cheek. (So as not to leave lipstick behind on the face!)

In Europe, as I understand it, it is a kiss on both cheeks. But that is beside the point.

You see, since I am so ingrained with the Houston custom of cheek (and air) kisses, I discreetly, or not so discreetly depending on the cooperation of the receiver, turn my face to the side for a side kiss rather than the lip kiss. It is a kind of automatic response for me to do that, and I am not giving someone the brush-off when I go on auto-pilot out of habit. I mean 34 years of a custom kind of gets internalized, don’t you think?

I am not used to the lip kisses, and I am not comfortable changing customs at my advanced age. When someone swoopes in for a kiss on the east coast, it is an awkward time. (And I do love all of my friends there!)

Sometimes I am not quick enough to turn my face to the side and I just appear like a cold fish trying to get out of giving the person a warm greeting. The thing is, I am always happy to see these people and I would like to extend MY warm, customary greeting, as it is more comfortable for me. Yet I have never discussed this with them and they probably think I am just weird. You see, those greetings are normal to them, so why would anyone have a problem with it?

At dinner with another couple we were discussing these regional differences and my friend decided that it was absolutely disgusting to kiss people on the lips in greeting, hello or goodbye. It was way too intimate she said.

That’s how most people in Houston would react to a lip kiss greeting – with horror, even though I have to say that Houstonians are the warmest, sweetest, most hospitable and gracious people on Earth.

That’s because we are just not used to it.

In fact, my friend went on to say that her husband is from Missouri, and he was doing the lip kiss greeting with his family members and others when she laid down the law: no more lip kissing for anyone but her.

Kissing on the lips as a greeting is as strange to us as this:

Blog Kiss 1

We actually had so many laughs at dinner with this topic due to my friend being horrified at how much lip kissing was going on in Philly and NJ, that my husband did this:

Blog kiss two

(Yes, we can get a little goofy for laughs.)

My husband, who I imported to Houston a mere 15 years ago, is still used to the east coast way of lip kissing for greeting people, and he is sure people back there think I am either a germ-a-phobe (I’m not) or a cold fish because of how I turn my head to do MY kind of regional kiss greeting. He does not like me rejecting the east coast way at all. (Yet I don’t with him – he’s my husband after all.)

In fact, my husband not only lip kisses his family members, male and female, but he lip kisses his male friends too. (Not in Houston though — he would not survive here trying to do that.)

At dinner still, the four of us wanted to know which kissing greeting custom was more common. Since I know a lot of people in California, I called my bestie in San Diego. But first I texted her with “Urgent Question.” She called me in a California minute, worried.

I asked her how they do the kissing greeting in California where she has lived for 27 years, though she is originally from Houston. She told me that all of her friends do the cheek kiss except one friend from Toronto who insists on doing a lip kiss. (a female.) NOTE:  I also have to say here, that that’s the kind of friend I have in my bestie. She is always there for me, even for a strange question at an odd hour on a Saturday evening, and doesn’t make me feel like a crazy person for even posing it.

So in this informal poll, there you have it my friends. The way it is done is based on your geographical area. California and Texas people do the cheek kiss, and Philadelphia and New Jersey and maybe Missouri  people do the lip kiss. My friend’s daughter in Baltimore (who we also called during dinner) insisted they do the cheek kiss there, but I am not so sure she has observed it long enough.

This is one of those weird east coast customs that I have to adapt to if I am going to spend time there and have any friends at all. The past two summers I may have already had people thinking I am the weird one, turning away from kisses as greetings. I promise friends, this explains it all.


  • Our friend at dinner went on to share that she grew up in a home where only her parents kissed each other on the lips and she and her siblings never kissed their parents on the lips, either. I found that to be so strange and unfamiliar. In our family we always kissed our parents on the lips, as we did our grandparents, aunts, uncles and even those very close neighbors, who were our parents best friends with and who were kind of like family to us. I’ve always kissed my kids on the lips when they were small and today, in their 30s. It is the most natural thing to do. To me it is the most heartwarming greeting to those you love and are very close to. It is not something I ever do with acquaintances or with anyone other than those who I have a long standing close, loving relationship with. Yes, loving relationships can be had with males and females of all ages. Relatives and close friends. And these loving relationships are certainly different than the loving relationship between spouses. I was raised in a family with love, honor and respect at it’s core. I never experienced family issues that separated members of the family. To this day, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents in my extended family, out to second cousins, all love each other, respect each other and kiss on the lips when we greet each other. I know no other way to be and I love the way we are. My friend Drew will be here in a few weeks to work on our taxes and we’ll hug and lip kiss when we meet again and say goodby. We met as waiters in Atlantic City in the early 1970s and love each other as brothers would, even though we’re friends. Well, what about you? How do you approach warm greetings with those you love, whether close family, extended family or the closest of friends. And I want to end this with a shout out to the friends I’ve met here in Houston who share my way of greeting. One is from up north and the other from the south, but not Houston. I love all equally and even though I initially thought those who turn the face for cheek kisses were very cold and I still do not like it, I do agree with my wife that Houstonians are some of the warmest and sweetest people I’ve ever known. But I will never get used to that custom and will always stick to mine. Don’t want a kiss on the lips from me, just turn your head. I’ll still think my way is right, but will love you just the same. How bout you?

    • I grew up in Philadelphia as well, and the only kissing of the lips in our household and extended family was reserved for husband and wife! We kissed on the cheeks!

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