The greeting kiss is a Miami move. Ritual pucker, it’s placed upon the cheek when first meeting, or when greeting friends and family again. Sometimes, only the cheeks make contact, and the kiss is sent floating in the air.
Haptic gesture, the cheek kiss (or air kiss) is not universally practiced. Certain humans in the southwestern hemisphere—Miami and Latin America—perform its permutations. Many in Europe do it too. In Miami, the greeting is standard between males and females, and amongst females. It is rarely seen between heterosexual/normative males. These same configurations of sexes do it in New York too, maybe because of the heavy Latin and European influence, and there are certainly pockets of cheek kissers in other places within and outside the U.S. too—apparently, Tahitians do the greeting cheek kiss.
The greeting kiss is like any other gesture: repeated over and over, composite marker of a speech community, something humans just do. Yet, it’s also unlike any other: the cheeks and lips are erogenous zones, so the greeting is often thought of as more intimate than a handshake, though it is determinedly un-sexual. And like any speech act or non-verbal communication, the greeting kiss contains immense potential for misinterpretation. If you’re from Miami, chances are you’ve had that awkward moment when you go in for a kiss when first meeting someone, and are instead met with a reeling, sidelong glance of horror.
So, if a gesture is a social sculpture we make of the space between us, then the greeting kiss contains a multitude of history and culture. Where does this ritual come from?
Published in the Fall 2016 issue of the Miami Rail