A cheeky custom: how to navigate the gesture of three kisses.
There is a good chance you will have heard of French kissing, a passionate kiss between lovers.
The Dutch have a lesser-known (and less romantic) type of kiss: a greeting between friends, colleagues, and family.
If you are visiting friends or family in the Netherlands, it is imperative to be familiar with one of Holland’s most common traditions: kissing on the cheek.
What is the ‘three kisses custom?’
In the Netherlands, kissing is a common gesture of greeting in some (formal) settings, such as a party, wedding, and holiday celebrations.
The practice of giving someone three kisses on the cheek as a greeting does not date from very long ago.
It is said that the kissing ritual was introduced to the Netherlands in the 1980s. The tradition is thought to have spread from a surrounding country, presumably from France.
Before kissing thrice became commonplace, Dutch people used to kiss once or twice when meeting. There is no agreement on where the kissing gesture originated.
Cheek kissing is a common greeting in many European countries, such as France, Switzerland, and Belgium.
How to deal with giving and receiving three kisses?
The three kisses are usually given on alternating cheeks. Both people lean forward to kiss each other’s cheeks at the same time.
Then they alternate to the other cheek, and continue until they have kissed three times.
This video includes a clip of two Dutch people greeting.
Some people prefer giving ‘air kisses,’ gently pushing their cheek against the other person’s cheek without using their lips.
When using air kisses, they might decide to instead produce the ‘sound’ of a kiss.
What if I don’t want to be kissed?
You are within your right to set boundaries. If you don’t want to be kissed, simply initiate a handshake when someone approaches you at a gathering.
If they don’t get the message, verbally make them aware that you feel uncomfortable being kissed. You don’t owe anyone anything at all, certainly not a kiss.
If you are visiting the Netherlands, Dutch people will typically be less inclined to try and kiss you out of the blue.
Before leaning in, they will usually ask for permission — a question further normalized as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Does everyone enjoy being kissed as a greeting?
Not exactly: young lowlanders are less prone to initiate three kisses on the cheek.
The three kisses are considered to be a kind of formal tradition. Younger generations have felt less inclined to adopt it.
How often do you kiss a friend?
Then there are the many Dutch people (including myself) who don’t enjoy the kissing: it can be intrusive, and lead to panicky situations.
If you can’t bring yourself to value the three kisses ritual, you’re by far not the only one.
If you enjoy immersing yourself in this typically Dutch tradition, you will fit right in. But try and be sensitive to other people’s feelings: not everyone will appreciate being kissed.
By: Timothy Schelhaas/ hollandinshort.com