A peck on the cheek, locking lips, snogging, necking, playing tonsil hockey.
90 percent of the global population practices some form of kissing or another.
And, yet, cultural values and norms dictate where and when and why and who we kiss.
Last week, we talked about cultural norms and appropriate touching. Today, we’ll discuss one of the most plainly visible cultural behaviors in this realm: kissing.
As we mentioned last week, Spanish women often greet with a kiss on both cheeks. Spanish men, however, do not normally greet other men this way. Cross-gender kissing is a greeting strictly reserved for women.
Travel to Eastern Europe, and you’d find there are no restrictions with the cheek kiss; men and women, alike, greet each other as such. A kiss on both cheeks is commensurate with a handshake.
Another cultural greeting comes in the form of the “Eskimo kiss.” This is a kiss that looks like rubbing noses.
The “kiss” is actually a Canadian Inuit tradition called a kunik. However, a kunik is probably not what you think.
Communications Director of the Avataq Cultural Institute in Montreal, Taqralik Partridge, told Esquire:
“Inuit do not touch noses end to end or rub them back and forth against each other. We place our nose over the place we intend to kunik, press our nostrils against the skin, and breathe in, causing the loved one’s skin or hair or any other part to be suctioned against our nose and upper lip.”
The intention with a kunik is to breathe in the smell of your loved one. These norms illustrate the Inuit culture’s values.
Where Kissing is a Crime
Some cultures prohibit kissing in specific circumstances.
For instance, in many parts of the world, PDA is highly taboo. And in some places, kissing in public is not only “frowned upon,” it’s illegal.
You might expect that in cultures with stricter cultural values and norms, like the Middle East or North Africa. But, guess what? Kissing is also illegal (on the books, at least) in some parts of the U.S.
In Hartford, Connecticut, it was made illegal for husbands to kiss their wives on Sundays. And in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a law was put in the books that prohibited strangers from kissing.
And what about unwanted kisses?
Snopes ran an article about English gentleman, Thomas Saverland, who apparently needed to learn that “no means no” the hard way.
In 1837, Saverland forcibly kissed Miss Caroline Newton at a party. Newton wasn’t having it, so she bit off a chunk of his nose.
According to the Bell’s New Weekly Messenger published on April 30, 1837, when Saverland took her to court, the judge was not sympathetic to his case, ruling:
“When a man kisses a woman against her will, she is fully entitled to bite off his nose, if she so pleases.”
These strangely specific instances are obviously regional and are likely not enacted nowadays. But the fact that they ever existed just goes to show how mores can become laws in certain cultures. And it also illustrates how cultural mores can evolve over time.
Sometimes, it takes years and even decades for laws to catch up to changing cultural values. And when values change, norms – like kissing habits – often follow.
Next week, we’ll delve deeper into sexual mores to see how various cultures view the act of locking lips.