Ever since I arrived in Buenos Aires, I’ve been kissing guys.
Yes, I’ve been getting up-close and personal with other dudes, feeling that two day stubble as it rubs against my cheek. I am not gay, I am not in prison, nor have I been temporarily seduced by their dashing good looks and words of chamuyero (smooth talker). You see, in Buenos Aires it is common for compañeros (male friends and acquaintances) to greet each other with a kiss to the cheek. Although my comparatively prude American upbringing at first led me to slight discomfort in these situations, the man kiss is common practice here. But the man kiss is not appropriate for every situation, or every acquaintance. Having had to learn the hard way, here’s a quick guide to debunking the ambiguous man kiss of Buenos Aires.
So when is it appropriate to greet one with a kiss instead of a handshake? Almost always when family members or friends greet each other, it is with one kiss on the right cheek. If you are introduced to a friend-of-a-friend, you will often greet them with a kiss, as well. But don’t get too into it because in reality, the kiss is often a phantom kiss, where the lips never touch the cheek.
When is the man kiss inappropriate? Well, a kiss may not be appropriate in the professional setting. Unless you are greeting a co-worker with whom you are friendly, keep workplace greetings to the casual hello and a handshake. I would also not recommend going for the kiss the first time you meet your girlfriend’s father. In the event that you are unsure which greeting is appropriate, I suggest opting for the more formal handshake.
Recently, one of my co-workers (with whom I am on a kissing basis) told me that the man kiss became popular in Buenos Aires when he was a teenager, in the 1970s. Upon further cultural investigation, I’ve discovered that the history of the man kiss is murkier, having no clear origin. In short, there are two competing theories. One school of thought claims that it became popular during the 1960s Woodstock era because the peace-loving, hippie musicians greeted each other with a kiss. To the contrary, the opposing theory asserts that the man kiss was made en moda by the most macho of society, specifically the futbolistas and bad ass union leaders.
Despite the man kiss now being a social norm, there is a small movement to eliminate the custom, which so far appears to be as unsuccessful as Ralph Nader’s 2008 run for President in the US. Nevertheless, Tomás Abraham, an Argentine philosopher, published an article titled, “Bésame Poco,” on his personal website in September 2006.* Within this article, Abraham bemoaned the obligatory kiss between men. He stated that it has reached, “an unbearable limit,” and that a handshake is frank, manly, and respectful. Abraham has labeled the custom BOM (Beso Obligatorio Masuclino , or Obligatory Man Kiss) and claims his problem with the kiss does not arise from machismo, but rather old-fashioned gentlemanliness.
While I am from the US, where this phenomenon is entirely taboo, I will defend the man kiss. Yes, it can be annoying at times. For example, after arriving late to a party you are then obligated to kiss all 15 people in attendance. But the man kiss is a warm and affectionate greeting. I believe this is a more healthy approach to human interaction. So stop worrying about always projecting your masculinity (because if you do, you probably are also inadvertently projecting your own insecurity) and embrace the man kiss or BOM! Though, I wouldn’t try to export it back home. Something tells me it won’t go over to well with the boys back in Texas.
To read Tomás Abraham’s complete argument regarding the obligatory man kiss, see:
Abraham, Tomas. “Besame Poco” La Caja Digital No. 6. September 2006.