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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Social kissing and The Archers

There are many things that make Ambridge unique. No two residents have the same first name. Nobody phones anyone, preferring to pop round in person to ensure that their neighbours got the message about the latest project. This is the only village which has a net in-flow of people in their early twenties, most of whom are saving the planet, one yogurt at a time. Members of minority groups arrive in a blaze of controversy and then hang around like spare parts.

Until recently a further thing had made Ambridge an exception to the general drift of life in Britain in 2010. Ambridge was the only place in the nation where there was no social kissing. Guests would turn up at other people's houses for celebrations with none of that osculatory awkwardness in the hall where people have to decide which cheek to lunge for first and judge when everyone has "done" everyone else and it's safe to go and get a drink. This was a bit of a relief. However, all that's changed. When I first noticed social kissing arriving in the Archers - and there was certainly one occasion this past week - I thought to myself, I hope Radio Four are going to extend the running time of the programme by at least a minute to at least make sure all the kissing doesn't eat into the plotlines. Because the thing about social kissing, whether real or dramatic, is that once you start with it you've got to see it through.

Strange that this should arrive in The Archers just as I'm trying to cut down on it in real life. It has its place, of course, in expressing genuine affection and in some cases respect but it can make life more complicated than it need be. At what point does one extend it to your children's grown-up friends? What about those work colleagues who might expect a peck in a social situation but would be understandably freaked out if you started every day with a mwah? What about the people that one meets professionally, then socially and then professionally again? What about - and I confess I have come near this variant with not entirely satisfactory outcomes - the male-on-male mwah? I trust the people at The Archers have had meetings about all this and come up with rules. If they have I would appreciate them giving us all a copy.

13 comments:

  1. When I first became a class traitor the thing that I found most unsettling was not the drinking of wine at non-Christmas mealtimes or the unaccountable presence of garlic in food but the indecipherable 'which cheek?' code and the - as you rightly point out - the complexity of distinguishing between the professional relationship, the social relationships, and that temerarious chimera, the professional but drunk relationship.

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  2. Social kissing? Must be some south eastern thing. Never seen it in Devon or Manchester...

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  3. Let's not even get started on the one cheek-or-two conundrum which sees you lunging for the second cheek JUST AS THE OTHER PERSON PULLS AWAY leaving you smooching their nose or similar while you merrily chirp 'both cheeks, darling! We're all middle-class here!' while dying inside....

    Or is that just me?

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  5. Not so long ago I was sat in the local Apple store in Buenos Aires waiting for a repair, just after opening time. The trendy young men ambling in to work there did indeed start their day with a mwah for one another, without exception.

    And I find it is becoming increasingly normal for male foreign colleagues of mine to expect to be greeted (and bade farewell) with a hug.

    Meanwhile I don't feel it's appropriate to kiss a woman on the cheek when introduced to her for the first time in a work situation - shaking hands seems more proper - but nonetheless it can be normal to kiss her at the end of such meeting!

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  6. I have often wondered when social kissing started. When I was a kid it was something those strange people did in the faraway land called France. It would be something for a University to spend some research funding on looking at old TV programmes (The Brothers, Triangle etc are a good social history reference point) and spot the first social kiss on UK TV. I think it could be surprisingly recent, like the amazement that the Black and White Minstrels were still on TV in the 70s

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  7. Being an expat you do tend to notice these changes more when you visit home after a year or two away and I do remember seeing it and thinking "when did we go all continental?" in the 90s. Maybe around the time M&S started selling Ciabatta sandwiches or something.

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  8. I often find myself the subject of poorly-excuted male hugs and kisses. It's all very nice that someone thinks of you as that special they want to hug and kiss you, but I'm not sure it's really necessary, anymore than the two-handed handshake.

    As for both cheek kissing, I'm so used to it I barely give it a thought, but when you see an elderly Scots relative for example, and go for both cheeks, they look at you like you've just stepped out of Ab Fab, and I flush with metropolitan shame.

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  9. A subject close to my heart. I married a French woman, and I have to cope every summer and every Xmas with the business of socially kissing my mother-in-law every effing morning and shaking hands with my father-in-law... and if I forget, he sulks all day.

    My heart sinks when we visit my wife's friends, even if we're just dropping off the kids to play with their kids, and we encounter a house/garden party in full swing. Twenty people you barely know, some you've met once or twice, who gets a mwah who gets a handshake? And you have to do it all to sat hello and then do it all again to say goodbye. And the five-minute visit has turned into an hour of my life I'm never getting back.

    I was so happy to learn that during the swine flu scare, the French stopped doing it so much. If only there was some permanent state of global epidemic.

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  10. Indeed. Just when did this creep into British life? I remember my first social kiss well. At a family funeral in 1989, a cousin - who had been living on the Continent - gave everyone a cheek peck before he left, much to everyone's (Northern, working-class) mortification.

    I have since spent a long time living abroad myself and still constantly get it wrong. There are Americans who give you a huge bear hug after a brief 30 minute acquaintance, and Japanese who recoil in horror at anything more than a handshake, even when bidding a permanent farewell at an airport after a five year friendship.

    It's a social minefield.

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  11. You accuse me of having changed my mind about Germans because of a holiday 10 years ago. I said nothing of the sort. I said my prejudices (as a baby-boomer with parents who fought in the War) had been destroyed by working in Germany of six months during the last World Cup. Based on your slip-shod, Stalinist revision of what I said, you call me superficial. You really need to take more care before you casually defame people.
    MICK DENNIS

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  12. I stand corrected. I think you meant this comment to go on the post before.

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  13. It gets even more complicated in Switzerland where they expect three mwahs. Being half Swiss and half Scot and living in Spain makes life pretty much impossible.

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