Last night we discussed with our Flemish friends how to say hello to Swedes… In Belgium you usually kiss your family and friends (one, two or three kisses depends on the situation and the cultural / regional background of the person – it can get really complicated and confusing) like in most Southern European countries. Very often you even kiss a person the first time you are introduced to her/him – if that is done by a mutual friend.
I don’t have any problem with faire la bise but for me it is 1) weird to kiss somebody the first time I meet a person 2) not very intimate! Let me explain myself; the alternative – to hug is definitely more intimate, you hold the person close to your body (except if you are like my friend O who used to be the worst hugger – hugging with rigid arms and keeping a certain distance… he got some complaints and has now improved lots!) and you give them a real squeeze! Kissing is usually done in the air, very rarely do the lips touch the cheeks of the other person!
Our friend yesterday, who is of Spanish origin but born and bred in Brussels was questioning if we NEVER kiss; don’t our parents kiss us, or our brothers and sisters… I thought about it and replied that no, my brother and my sister would never kiss me, maybe my parents sometimes give me a quick kiss on the cheek while hugging. But no, kissing is just something you do to small children or on the lips of course if it’s a person you are romantically involved with! He thought that it was a really strange tradition but like he said, it’s a cultural difference!
My dear O was giving hugging lessons yesterday, he has concluded that a good Swedish hug includes some rubbing of the back of the other person! I don’t know if I do that, I think that I use both my arms to really make the hug complete… how do you hug?
We explained though that you never ever hug a person when you are introduced to her/him, then you shake hands. I have noticed that when to shake hands is not that obvious either – I have been in quite a lot of situations abroad where I have volunteered my hand and almost been left standing with it in the arm because the other person has not been expecting to shake hands. Very often when you are introduced to a person, they kind of just give you a nod or a wave like “Hi”… I didn’t realise that it was so Swedish to shake hands?!
The number of kisses can also be confusing as I mentioned before, especially in a heterogenous place like Brussels or Geneva where I lived before. Twice is the most common number, but the Belgians usually kiss once or thrice (only special occasions), in Switzerland you kiss thrice and also in the Netherlands. The confusion occurs when you meet a French person in Geneva for example – has he/she adapted to the Swiss way or is he/she still doing it twice?? Same in Brussels, among expats you kiss twice – when you have a Belgian among the expats – has that person adapted or not? Or does the Belgian want to do it once, twice or thrice?? Sometimes I remember to ask beforehand to establish the rules, but very often you are kept hanging with your kiss or leave somebody hanging – it’s all kind of awkward!
Today I have been watching the celebrations of the Swedish Crown Princess Victoria’s 30th birthday yesterday, I could watch it thanks to Swedish TV on the internet. The concert organised in her honour was presented by two comedians Johan Glans and David Batra, both from my region Skåne. Johan Glans used to go to my school and I remember how he organised some really funny shows in school. Henrik Larsson, one of the best Swedish football players (he played for Barcelona for a while) (he is also from Skåne) was given the Victoria Prize, an annual award given to great athletes. And guess what, the Crown Princess HUGGED Henke when handing over the prize, while the people saying hello to the king and queen just shook their hands. Later on today, I saw pictures on TVE (Spanish TV) from the baptism of the new Spanish princess Sofia – and I noticed that the women saying hello to the Spanish king KISSED him twice on the cheeks. A perfect example of the different traditions! I was a little surprised to see Victoria hug Henke, but I was equally surprised to see the Spanish women kiss Juan Carlos!
PS. Kissing can become really intimate, if you get confused of which side to start with and you end up kissing the person smack on the mouth – happened to me twice, really embarrassing!!
PS II. Johan Glans & David Batra singing their way through all the Swedish kings since the beginning of time was so funny and very impressive (they must have been practising a lot – even the King looked impressed!).