When and How do I Give 'Dos Besos'?

Dear Stan,

Ahh, dos besos! The average, but intimate, way Spaniards (and some other Europeans) like to greet. I quite clearly remember one of my first lessons in Spain including this topic. And I’m not talking about a metaphorical ‘life lesson’―I mean that my study abroad program literally included this in orientation and had us all stand up and practice on each other the day after we arrived in Spain.

Now, before you say “Gross! What kind of perverted program would make their students practice kissing each other!?” let me assure you that this WAS funny and a bit uncomfortable at first but also extremely helpful for us. Although you may have heard about Spain’s ‘two kisses’ culture, there are likely some misconceptions floating around in your mind so let me clarify and save you some awkward moments.

Photo by  Alex Blăjan

Photo by Alex Blăjan

1.) Dos besos does not involve real kisses: Although there will of course be exceptions to every generalization, the norm is to simply graze cheeks with the person you are giving ‘two kisses’ to. You don’t actually need to pucker up―although some Spaniards will make a quiet ‘kissy’ noise as they give you these air-kisses.

Note: When you have closer friends, or someone who may want something more, they might legitimately kiss you on the cheek instead of just grazing your cheek. 

2.) Turn your head to the left, then the right: Dos besos can be awkward enough at the beginning―you don’t want to add in the element of almost kissing the person on the lips because you turned in the same direction as them! Although this procedure does not hold up in every culture (for example, the norm is to turn right-then-left in Italy), here in Spain it will keep you safely away from unsuspecting mouths. (Although if you want to use this cultural ‘mishap’ to your advantage when meeting a Spanish cutie, I won’t tell on you!)

3.) This greeting is only a thing if there is a female involved: In many ways, Spanish culture really maintains machista values and this is one example. While it is normal for two girls or for a girl and a guy to exchange dos besos, is not common to see two men do so. Instead, guys seems to go for the ‘bro hug’ or handshake (some things are international).

Note: Spanish guys who are family members or really good friends may kiss in addition to hugging―so while it is not 'normal,' it is also not weird.

4.) Dos besos is appropriate in more settings than you realize: This is, perhaps, the hardest part to navigate as there are so many ‘grey areas’ in which you may not know if you should give two kisses, a handshake, or some other form of greeting. In all honesty, you’ll eventually develop your own code of conduct for this, but I’ll share my personal insights on some of the yes-or-no!?-ahh! situations I’ve experienced:

  • Dos besos the first time you meet someone in a personal setting? Yes! When you are introduced to host-family members, friends-of-friends, or even strangers at an intercambio or other social setting, this is the form of greeting Spaniards will expect.

  • Dos besos the first time you meet someone in a professional setting? Probably not, but don’t be surprised if it happens. While dos besos can be viewed as a form of intimacy, many Spaniards strive to have this in the business world as well so don’t be taken aback if your boss or banker leans in for their two kisses―especially at the end of your interaction, when they will feel that you’ve cultivated some confianza or trust.

  • Dos besos when you arrive at an event and there are a million people to introduce yourself to? Yes! Of course, you can choose to address the group in a collective “hi there!” but what I’ve found to be the norm is that Spaniards will go around the entire group (each person standing up if they’re around a table) and give dos besos in order to acknowledge everyone individually.

  • Dos besos with children? Usually Yes! Of course, follow your judgment of the particular situation to avoid any awkward or horrified looks from parents but most times I have met people’s children I just look excited and say hola from a distance and the kids step right up for their kisses or are prompted by their parents to do so.

As with all cultural norms, you’re sure to have some mishaps so don’t take my word for granted―you’ve gotta go out there and figure it out for yourself. Also, if this custom makes you really uncomfortable you can continue to shake hands, hug, or give whatever type of greeting you see fit. Simply be aware that this may catch some Spaniards off-guard as dos besos is the go-to in almost all situations.

Let me know how it works out for you or if you’ve already had some funny ‘two kisses’ experiences!