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. Looking back, I truly appreciate my progam’s attention to detail and willingness to make us slightly uncomfortable once in order to prepare us for an aspect of the Spanish culture that we were unfamiliar with but that we were instantly expected to partake in once we met our host families.
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.
If you’re more of an audio-learner, we’ve created this video, which summarizes the rest of the article for you. Enjoy whichever media serves you best!
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 kissing noise as they give you these air-kisses.
Note: When you have closer friends, or someone who may be attracted to you, they might legitimately kiss you on the cheek instead of just grazing your cheek.
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!)
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.
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 greet/introduce yourself to? Yes! Of course, you can choose to address the group with a wave as a collective “hi there!” However, the norm for Spaniards would be to go around the entire group (each person standing up if they’re around a table) and to give dos besos in order to acknowledge everyone individually. This is just as common if you know everyone already or if you are meeting new people.
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. Although you may feel uncomfortable with this due to your cultural upbringing, most Spanish kids will not have the same qualms.
As with all cultural norms, there are always exceptions to the rules and you will, undoubtedly, find Spaniards who act differently in the above situations. Either way, you’ll likely have some mishaps so don’t take my word for granted―you’ve gotta go out there and figure it out for yourself. However, if you have this advice in mind you’re more likely to be prepared for this cultural situation that may be foreign to you.
On a final note, though, if this custom makes you really uncomfortable you can absolutely 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. If it makes you feel more confident, consider practicing a quick explanation in Spanish (such as “sé que es normal dar dos besos, pero prefiero _[darse el mano]_” which means “I know it’s normal to give two kisses, but I prefer to [shake hands]) before you head out to social occasions.
Let me know how it works out for you or if you’ve already had some funny ‘two kisses’ experiences!