Give us a kiss!  I wasn’t always a tactile person, you know. We didn’t really do hugs in my house, when I was young, and even now a greeting with my family usually consists of a raised eyebrow, accompanied with a gruff “Aye”.

An embarrassing thing happened to me and a friend last week. Let’s call her Susan, to preserve her modesty.  We have been friends for maybe a couple of years, and enjoyed a few beers and laughs at various networking events and conferences.  We even play Scrabble online (I know – how decadent).

From the very start, whenever Susan saw me, she would give me a kiss on the lips.  I initially thought this was peculiar, but didn’t want to say, so it continued until last week at TRULondon.  We had just done the “kiss”, and someone beside us remarked on it.  I then said that Susan was the only one who kissed me like that, other than Luciana (my wife). Susan said she thought that’s how I always kissed when meeting people.  I replied, “No, I thought it was your thing, I was only being polite”. Well, it turns out she was only being polite too, and didn’t like to say either!  By this time, we were both blushing with embarrassment.

It seems the very first kiss must have been an accident, when going for a cheek, and missing the intended target.  To break the awkwardness I kissed Susan on both cheeks, and we agreed never to speak of it again.  Whilst it doesn’t usually become an ongoing “thing”, like this example, it’s often so simple to misread the body language of a fellow greeter, and find yourself going for a shake, when they are going for a hug-slash-kiss, and you end up falling over one another and getting slobbered on the ear!  If I’ve ever done this to you (and I’ve definitely done it to some), then I apologise profusely.  Louise Triance tells me she almost planted a full-on smacker on Dan McGuire last week. (Nae luck Dan) 

I do think that women are unfairly disadvantaged in these exchanges.  Whilst us chaps can get away with a firm handshake, or a variation on that theme, I’ve witnessed the implied obligation for women to offer a kiss and a hug.  This surely must make some women retch and gag at times, at the sight of some grotesque businessman bearing down on them.

Perhaps I’m just a big square, and I need to loosen up.  My in-laws are Italian, so I’ve become used to kissing men on either cheek, but I must confess to it being very weird to begin with. I definitely squirm when I see parents kissing their children on the lips at the school gates – bleurgh!

I do still think we should maintain some decorum, when greeting professionals in a professional environment, who aren’t your close friends.  For example, if I meet Ann Swain, whom I don’t know that well, there seems to be an implied expectation of a kiss and a hug, when I just want to shake her hand.   You know when people give you a hug, and hold you a little longer than necessary?  I’ve occasionally had that from some candidates I’ve interviewed – very awkward.  I really don’t mind being tactile (in fact I perhaps go further than most) but I don’t like the expectation of it with relative strangers.

So in closing, if the next time I meet you, I don’t lift you off the ground in an embrace, and spin you around, don’t take it personally.  A solid handshake speaks volumes, and is more than enough.


Stephen O'Donnell is a lifelong recruiter, internet enthusiast, fadgadget and peripatetic writer.

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