Europe Greetings: Which Cheek is Offered First?

N 55
E 012
Hamburg to Køpenhavn: 485 Kilometers

Today we will cross a major bridge, 24 kilometres long,

connecting 2 regions of Denmark, Fyn and Sjælland, over the Storebælt. This bridge opened 4 or 5 years ago, at about the same time as another bridge/tunnel of similar length that connects Denmark to Sweden. I am fascinated by bridges, and I have been dreaming about driving across these 2 bridges since I read about them when they opened. Both of these engineering feats have cut hours off their respective journeys, and the toll of 250 Danish kroner, (or just over C$50) is less costly than the ferries used to be.

I am disappointed when we arrive at the bridge, it is virtually invisible, shrouded in the fog and driving rain. For most of its length, the bridge is merely 10 metres or so above the water, and there is a double train track running alongside. As we get close to the Sjælland side of the bridge, we start rising to go over the shipping channel – but we can’t see the towers because they rise into the fog. The train tracks have disappeared – we learn later that they go through a tunnel under the channel.

A North Sea Storm

As we head north, we drive through a persistent rain – the storm off the North Sea is in full force today. I have a creeping feeling of being cold for the next few weeks considering how fall-like our weather has been since we arrived in Germany last week. I don’t have anything to base this on other than the coolish, 15 degree, rainy and overcast weather that has welcomed us to Europe. Other than that, Europe has been good to us. There is a strange familiarity about it somehow. Our car is now our refuge from weather, baggage-hauling and, if necessary, from potentially overly chatty B&B hosts. Clothing and language are more familiar to us and we are much more self-reliant. Our choices for interesting side trips have increased substantially. Very different from the first phase of our journey.

Which Cheek First?

The real issue we have been struggling with is how to greet people. Everyone it seems approaches and kisses you when they meet you for the first time but the trick is in understanding the sequence and number of kisses that separates the men from the tourists, so to speak…

In Germany, for example, they greet you with two kisses and two kisses only. God forbid you should stray from that hard and fast rule. The Belgians and Dutch kiss three times and many make a distinct “mwu” sound as they move from cheek to cheek. These social rituals appear obligatory; you must greet or say goodbye to everyone you are visiting, out for a drink or sharing dinner with. Even if you are crammed into the back seat of the car you are travelling in you must pull yourself out to say goodnight to everyone you are hitching a ride with. Now, don’t misunderstand me. It is actually very pleasant and familiar. Very un-North American, where a quick and polite shaking of hands is as close as you will get to your new acquaintances. I am also struggling to comprehend the policy and politics of which cheek is offered first. If you are initiating the greeting, which cheek do you approach? If you are accepting the hello, and say, are left handed (cheeked), which cheek do you offer? If there is a collision mid-greet, do you start again with the first cheek or continue with the cheek you collided on? Can anyone help me with this??

As always, practice makes perfect and practice we must because it is rumoured that in France they greet you with four kisses………

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