A kiss is just a kiss, no? But when it’s Jenni Hermoso, the forward of the victorious Spanish women’s football team, on the receiving end, and the president of the Spanish football federation, Luis Rubiales, doing the kissing, and it’s during the official post-match ceremony in front of an interested global audience… it’s different.
Immediately afterwards, Miss Hermoso declared that she ‘didn’t like it’. Rubiales was defiant. ‘It was a kiss between two friends celebrating something,’ he declared, calling his critics ‘idiots and stupid people’. He may have had in mind the minister of equality in Spain’s caretaker government, Irene Montero, who described the kiss as ‘a form of sexual violence’.
Yes, well, it just shows you how fraught kissing is. In Spain, people do kiss each other as a social thing – on both cheeks, starting with the left. It’s one of several nations where social kissing is the norm. Two kisses is usual, except in Christian Orthodox cultures like Serbia, where you do three, presumably in honour of the Trinity. Britain too has taken to the habit of cheek-kissing, though only in the last generation or so. Before, people shook hands or nodded. I had always been enchanted by the report that men kiss women’s hands in Poland, but after meeting any number of Poles, I am sorry to report that they’ve dropped the habit.
But have you ever thought just how weird kissing is? We do it as a matter of course; it’s part of our idea of amorous behaviour. But it turns out it’s not. In 2015, a group of social scientists published research – that must have been fun – on the subject of romantic kissing in American Anthropologist, based on a set of 168 cultures and surveying 88 ethnographers.