Observations from an Eataliano
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Don't kiss me - Kick me

Don’t kiss me, kick me…

I just spent 6 weeks in Italy, as the Corona virus started appearing. Areas of Italy turned into ‘red zones’, and then the entire country put on ‘lock-down’. During this visit – I saw interesting perspectives on societies adjusting to a new crisis.

Kissing and hugging (in particular the two cheek kiss) is important to the Italians. Everyone does it. It’s a normal form of greeting. It makes non-Italians uncomfortable. Multitudes of videos and blog posts explain proper methods and etiquette. They try to answer the questions ‘do I actually kiss the cheek or just make the noise?’, ‘left first or right?’, ‘same gender – is that ok/expected?’ ‘do I kiss guys the same as women?’, ‘what about children?’… More than once I’ve bumped faces with the left / right mistake.

With the threat of germs, a few started the elbow pump as an alternate, until someone pointed out, “Hey, didn’t you just cough into that elbow”? 

Then the Wuhan shake video hit the internet. The greeting – two light toe taps, one per foot, allows the person to make a little human contact, but keep a safe distance away. It’s almost dance like in its execution.

Within days of the video coming out, the Italians went on a national shutdown. This was the beginning of massive closures across the country, including bars, restaurants, all non-essential services.

My neighbors invited me to a family dinner. On arrival, I leaned in to kiss the nonna, as I had many times. We don’t speak a common language, so the hug and cheek kisses were really important. “Niente baci” (no kisses) she said. “Calci”(kick). She pulled back and offered her toe. It confused me. Her look was insistent. “Calci” she repeated. I offered my toe up to hers – she gave a little tap. Then she switched feet, and we did it again.

The next day in the village, I saw more and more people substituting their normal kisses for the kick.

It has the feeling of an italian football (soccer) dribble – gentle and controlled. It didn’t matter so much the left or right to start with. Either worked, and it didn’t have to match. No embarrassing nose crashes either!

I find it interesting to see how fast cultural institutions could change. The long standing – kiss both cheeks ritual almost instantly morphed. I hope when this crisis ends, things will return to normal with the hug and kiss. In the meantime – they’ve found a good compromise to maintain human contact and be safe.

Eatalianos take things in stride and adjust quickly.

2 thoughts on “Don’t kiss me, kick me…”

  1. Great to know you are back, but I have to say, if I need to be locked down I’d rather be in Italy. Love the kick-dance, and thanks for the etiquette lessons!

    1. I was there my scheduled 6 weeks, and had to make sure I came back to be able to go back in May and June (within my Schengen visa limits). Italy and Colorado – two places pretty nice to hunker down!

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