Does corona mean the end of the jaw kiss?

If one person hopes for an ‘au revoir’ for a while, then the other dreams of an ultimate ‘adieu’. However: once that smack was denounced for revolution. A requiem for the kiss.

Phew, finally done with it! Never again ‘Hey. Mwah! Ça va? ”You may have thought when virologist Marc Van Ranst denounced social kissing. Let’s face it: how warming – and even exciting – the French kiss can be, how confusing is the greeting smack on the jaw. Birthdays or award ceremonies, until then: with three standard kisses you are always off without a hitch in Belgium. On every other occasion, on the other hand, a social riddle awaits: do you give one, two or three smack kisses? Do you start left or right? Okay, for relatives and friends, but what about an unknown friend of a friend? And what about the sneaky gags or too loud smackers?

On the world stage, there must be about as many kissing habits as there are dialects. French people who kiss up to five times, depending on the region, have with or domestic help, they are also hopelessly lost across the border.

In 2013, New Yorker Ben Lamberty put a series of love couples and friends in front of the lens and photographed their kisses.
© Ben Lamberty

Everyone knows that bizarre diplomatic lip wrestling when different nationalities greet each other: Ah, no hey, the Parisian then shows his second cheek to the Brussels resident, who gives only one kiss, while the Milanese throws a third in the fight because who kisses last, right? best coast. Or sometimes not kiss at all. Like Asians, who are more likely to bow. Or like the German in whose neck my lips landed when I thought I should pursue them, but got a hug instead of a kiss.

Even in Belgium, the difference is already big, with Walloons kissing faster than the slightly more reticent Flemish. According to social psychologist Frank Van Overwalle, confusion about kissing is annoying because we want to communicate so clearly: ‘The way we greet each other says something about our relationship,’ says the VUB professor. “If we do wrong in another culture, we get embarrassed, because we may inadvertently send the wrong message and the other may get angry.”

Hollywood kiss

While Hollywood claims that the kiss is all about romance – and even considers itself its inventor – the romantic kiss is just one detail in our kissing tradition. According to evolutionary biologists, the ritual arose thousands of years ago from so-called kiss feeding, in which the first humans gave their children – like animals – chewed food by mouth.

Just after it became known that Japan had surrendered, press photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt photographed a sailor who grabbed a random nurse in New York’s Times Square and kissed her full on the mouth.
© Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

Later the kiss evolved into an expression of rank and respect: as early as 500 B.C.E., the Greek historian Herodotus wrote how the Persians kissed each other according to strict instructions based on status, whereby the lowest in rank had to kiss according to his appearance.

Fortunately, the Ancient Romans added some relief to the kiss: they had both loving kisses (‘osculum basium’, for family and husband) and erotic French kissing (‘osculum savium’, only for liaisons). At the same time, they also used a closed-lipped osculum as a greeting. And illiterate people in Rome could even officially ‘sign’ a contract with a kiss.

Political kiss

Hollywood is wrong: throughout history, the kiss has been a matter of rank and respect rather than romance. In the Middle Ages, it was common to kiss the thighs of the lord of the manor, just like the feet of the Pope or the ground in front of the feet of the king. And we kiss acquaintances, man or woman, on the mouth. Until the church started to have doubts – would there be anything erotic behind it? – and soon forbade the mouth cushion in the 15th century.

Then U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton and Senator Paul Wellstone greet each other on August 3, 1994.
© Getty Images

Even today, a kiss in the face symbolizes equality. Look at the political hype, at smacking world leaders like Merkel and Macron at summits. Although no one can surpass the old communists: they expressed deep respect for a party member with a socialist fraternal kiss, sometimes bravely slapped on the lips. The street art version of the legendary kiss between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and the Chairman of the State Council of the German Democratic Republic Erich Honecker from 1979 has been a draw on the Berlin Wall for thirty years.

The brother kiss between Eastern Bloc leaders Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker in 1979 became iconic after Dmitri Vrubel turned it into a graffiti painting on the Berlin Wall in 1990.
© Shutterstock / Valentina Photos

Elite kiss

I remember my first kiss on the jaw as sharply as the real one that followed years later. How my girl next door, in the pre-social media era, found a holiday sweetheart from the city, I don’t remember, but how unforgettable was his chic meeting kiss on my teenage girl’s cheek by the swimming pond.

That elitist connotation, that chic, is historically not so strange. For a long time, the implied equality meant that self-esteem was kissed only in the upper social classes, writes Karen Harvey in The Kiss in History. That still resonates, also in geographical differences between the city and the countryside.

German actress Marlene Dietrich greets Christian Dior at one of his fashion shows in Paris, August 1955.
© Getty Images

With the exception of the royal protocol, we are no longer obliged to salute someone according to his rank, but our greeting still reveals something about who we are, Van Overwalle knows. Just as brightly colored hair, piercings or tattoos between the lines reveal a lot, so did the kiss: “We are different in the city.” In no way different from that swimming pond in the distant interior.

Most remarkable of all, behind every kiss lies the history and battlefield of an entire society. Of domination and cultural power, of equality and differences between ranks and classes, genders and even between town and country.

Greeting kiss

Kisses are all revolution. The kiss on the jaw first became fashionable after the French Revolution in 1789, when the liberal bourgeoisie – “liberty, equality, fraternity” – conquered the ancient nobility. The greeting kiss as we knew it up to Corona, we owe to the revolts of May 1968. Kissing each other egalitarian on the cheek was unusual and bourgeois, until the young people turned society upside down, says Valérie Piette, history professor at the ULB. ‘1968 was the year in which the kiss became democratic, because young people gave it a new meaning.’

The greeting kiss as we knew it up to Corona, we owe to the revolts of May 1968.
© Getty Images

Started as a political statement – different classes, men and women, kissing each other in equality – jovial kissing penetrated our lives through films, until it became normal and then even banal. And sometimes downright too much of a good thing. “I know people who take the New Year off to avoid kissing at work,” says etiquette expert Brigitte Balfoort. Look at others first was her previous advice for that “jungle without habits.” “It’s easy now,” she says with relief. ‘We have to keep our distance. In this way, kisses will become real kisses again, for your family and children. ‘

Post coronacus

What will that kissing mean in the future? Well-known faces (think: Carla Bruni and Jean-Marie Dedecker) who just after the outbreak of the covid pandemic still announced that they would keep kissing, we think very crazy today.

A work by the street artist Banksy in Glasgow, inspired by the health crisis. A man and woman pulled down their masks to kiss.
© Belga Image

Social psychologist Van Overwalle predicts more distant behavior: ‘We are already making’ dada ‘movements with an open hand to the screen, a gesture that has long been in vogue in China.’ Balfoort is happy that we can no longer hide: ‘You used to be able to get rid of it quickly with a kiss. Hello, boom! and you were gone. Now you really have to introduce yourself and learn to start a conversation again. ‘

That may not be a bad idea. So, if we can forget about foot and elbow tapping, at least we have something to say after a real ‘Hey. Mwah! How are you?’

5x kisses with knowledge

1. French kissing is an English sneer

Of course that’s suspicious, a French phrase that only exists in English. It was invented at the height of the Anglo-French hostilities, between 1730 and 1820. Sex was reprehensible, as was the French with their Latin culture. So the British vocabulary found a French inspired synonym for every bastard: from ‘French lessons’ (visiting a prostitute) and ‘French prints’ (pornographic images) to ‘being frenchified’ (contracting syphilis). They lost world domination, but the British still French kiss with a ‘French kiss’.

Madonna kissing Britney Spears at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards was still shocking at the time, but clearly mutually agreed. Thirteen years later, what ‘Maddie’ conquered from Drake was the definition of a ‘baiser volé’. You could clearly see that in the rapper’s disgusted face. For such a kiss without mutual consent, a ‘crimen osculationis’, you risked punishment with the Romans. Drake is still waiting for justice.

Madonna kisses Drake at Coachella

3. Kiss of life, unworthy of the kiss of a doctor

In 1745, Dr. John Fothergill addressed the Royal Society of London science academy about the “Kiss of life,” a practice long ago used by midwives to save lifeless babies and old enough to be mentioned in the Bible. Interesting: physicians considered this so unworthy of their profession that the undesirable mouth-to-mouth resuscitation was not reintroduced until the 1950s.

Even in cultures that renounce outdoor kissing, almost everyone kisses in a family circle. In ancient times there was even a law, the ‘ius osculi’, which allowed a woman to be kissed by all her relatives. Not just to greet her, but also so that the sniffing kisser could check that she hadn’t been sneaking through the alcoholic drinks.

Don’t be scornful about internet generation words like ‘LOL’ (laughing out loud) and ‘YOLO’ (you only live once): we have been communicating with bizarre acronyms for a long time. Spanish formal letters ended with ‘QBSM’, que besa su mano, (whoever kisses your hand) or ‘QBSP’, que besa sus pies (whoever kisses your feet), while ‘SWALK’, sealed with a loving kiss, is a holdover from the romantic correspondence of English soldiers from WWII.

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