Rachel Johnson

Kiss off | 11 April 2019

Social greetings are getting out of control

Kiss off | 11 April 2019
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It’s out of control! If I play doubles first thing, have a lunch, then go to perhaps two parties in an evening, I can be embracing more than a hundred people in the course of my day.

It’s so unhygienic — especially in the flu season, when someone gives you a sticky peck before telling you in the next breath how ill they are.

It all makes me envy the royals, who have a trusty and time-honoured system of self-protection from this imposition.

Princess Anne sticks out a white-gloved hand. You curtsey to the Queen and other members of the royal family, unless you know them a bit, where — at their lead — you are permitted to perform ‘the kiss, bob, snog’ (Nicky Haslam, arbiter of all these important things, explains it’s actually kiss, curtsey/bow, hug and is reserved for friends).

‘Isn’t kissing becoming too, too common?’ I complained to Nicky.

‘Yes, disgusting and extraordinary,’ he agreed, before telling me of a Tory peer who insists on kissing him on the lips.

How I envy Princess Anne’s white gloves. We civilians have no comparable barrier against the endless ‘mwah mwah’-ing of modern life (women who wear lipstick actually say ‘mwah mwah’ as they air-kiss so as not to smear) that must go on whenever A meets B.

I resent the fact that when I am introduced to a young stranger of either sex they will give me several smackers without so much as a by your leave. I find myself Lady Bracknelling — ‘Have we been introduced?’ — in my head. As Nicky H observes: ‘What’s wrong with saying “How nice to see/meet you?”’ Indeed. (Confession: I kiss Nicky on the lips, and about three other men in London, but only because I’m so pleased to see them and I hope them me. And I’d kiss my children on the lips too if only they’d let me, but that’s different – we are intimates, not strangers.)

Now, I have nothing against sexual kissing in private, or men making passes (in fact at my age I’m grateful for any attention, as per my piece which mentioned Taki lunging in San Lorenzo, for which he has never forgiven me. Sorry Taki!).

My objections are confined to the continental practice of ‘social’ kissing which has turned all human interaction into a contact sport, where the only rule seems to be that everyone kisses everyone else all the time.

‘It all started when Princess Diana was seen kissing a member of the royal household after her wedding,’ claims Dear Mary of this parish. After Di, le déluge. The Duke of Kent kissed Wimbledon ladies’ champions. Cilla Black kissed all the contestants on Blind Date and from then on, it was writ that everyone on chatshows must kiss the host and the entire contents of the sofa.

I stand by my social-sexual distinction. It is only this, in my view, that explains why the world basically gave President Trump a get-out-of-jail-free card for his crass animal antics with women (‘You kiss them…grab them by the pussy’, etc) but has been gagging and pointing non-stop over poor ‘creepy’ Joe Biden, whose candidacy for the Democratic nomination has been blighted by his handsy ways of ‘connecting’ with others.

‘I’m a hugger, I’m a kisser, and I’m a little bit of a sniffer,’ Biden explains as photographs of him body-hugging women from behind while deeply inhaling their necks flood the internet. ‘It turns out I’m 1 per cent eskimo so I’m allowed to do the kissing.’ UGH!

At the end of a tennis game, it is customary for all players to shake hands over the net. Or it was. These days it’s more like love-all as men wipe their sweaty faces and damp bristly stubble on you as if you are a towel.

My husband has a biological explanation for the rash (literally) outbreak of perma-kissing. ‘It’s the only way you get to check a woman’s sniffs,’ he says, ‘which give you vital information as to whether you can or want to (fill in your word of choice) her.’ TMI!

As readers may know, I am a Europhile Remainer so it’s a bit rich of me to whinge about the cult of indiscriminate osculation, a continental import that has penetrated these islands since our accession.

I admit, my preference when it comes to the greeting of strangers or auld acquaintances is, secretly, the Jean-Claude Juncker: the kissing of the air above Theresa May’s wrist, which I find faint-makingly gallant.  I also like the posh custom of saying ‘CYK’ to people, which stands for ‘consider yourself kissed’ — friendly without being clammy.

For me, the only upside of Brexit — and trust me, I’ve spent three years hunting for one — is if after we leave the EU we can stop all the gummy kisses and clumsy manhugs and go back to stiff British salutations while not making eye contact at any point.

So yes, I agree: we do need to get a grip, and take back control of this alien and unhygienic addiction.

Let’s make the handshake great again!