Switzerland is a country of many contradictions.
One of the more obvious ones, which you may have noticed pretty soon after arriving here, is that it takes five years to make friends, but no time at all to get kissed.
You might think that saying Hello, bonjouror Good morning may suffice in a way of greeting, but you’d be wrong.
For eons and up until March 2020, the Swiss of opposite sexes just loved to say ‘hi’ and ‘bye ‘with a three-cheek kiss. The custom temporarily fell out of favour (the same as a handshake) during the pandemic for obvious reasons, but it is now back.
What’s with all the kissing?
It is not known when exactly this custom originated because history books differ on this topic, but it has developed and is commonplace in many countries across the world as a way to greet or say goodbye to someone.
What we do know for sure is that in modern-day Switzerland, three-cheek kisses are the norm — even if they generate some confusion on the manner in which they should be planted.
The kissing technique doesn’t, unfortunately, come with an instruction manual, so some people are still not sure of the correct order: should the right cheek be kissed first, or the left one?
That is quite a conundrum in a well organised and micro-managed country like Switzerland: it is interesting that they still have not resolved the left-or-right question, leaving the choice up to the kisser.
But like pretty much everything else in Switzerland, the kissing preference is left to individual cantons, and this map shows regional trends.
In it, we see, that in the vast majority of cantons, the right-left-right combination is favoured, though even within those cantons some people practice the opposite formula.
It is best to learn which method is more prevalent in your community — this knowledge may be very useful if you apply for naturalisation, and fluency in the kissing culture of the region could be taken as proof of your integration.
READ MORE: The dos and don’ts of Swiss social etiquette
Who do you kiss?
You may be naturally more inclined to three-kiss someone you know and like, but that would be too simple.
You will likely find that you are required to kiss even someone you just met for the first time.Thankfully, this rule applies only in social settings and not in professional ones, where a handshake suffices.
But wait, things can get more complicated.
You will be kissing people to greet them, and to say goodbye as well.
Say, you are in a group of 10 people. This means you will be giving 30 kisses in all, and receiving as many back.
Sure, you can avoid the kiss-a-thon by pretending to have a cold or some other respiratory virus, but sooner or later this tactic is likely to backfire: you will become known as a chronically ill person and will not be invited to social gatherings.
So a three-cheek kiss is an inescapable reality in Switzerland, the price you have to pay for not being a social outcast.
Just remember, it’s three kisses, not two. Otherwise the Swiss will think you are French, and that’s even worse than not kissing at all.