The three kisses

princess kissing frog

The Swiss are great kissers. Who knew?

Among all the cultural differences and idiosyncrasies I thought I’d encounter (and then blog about), the kissing issue was never high on the list.

Then I went to church on Sunday. And there it was. The kissing!

In Switzerland the custom is to kiss three times on the cheeks, one more than the French, not that the Swiss are known for being excessive about anything, except possibly being on time. Maybe it’s more of a competition. Anyway, with family and close friends (and also church members?), you start on the left, move quickly to the right, and then back to the left. Three times which, for someone who prizes a firm handshake and good eye-contact, is a lot.

My first time was awkward, but exciting. Whose isn’t?

By my third or fourth time I was gold. The Midwesterner in me prefers a little less intimacy – at least at the get-go – but the custom is warm and genuine. I like it. I always thought cheek kissing was for celebrities and those far more glamorous and sophisticated than I am.

Not anymore. I’m ready to go.

Saying good-bye at a social gathering in Switzerland takes a while. It’s rude to walk out without saying good-bye to each person, and kissing everyone multiple times can take a surprising amount of time. I’m used to long coffee hours at church, and so are my children, but in Switzerland the coffee hour after church can be really long.

As for the spiritual significance of the three kisses, I can’t think of any, though I’m sure if I put my mind to it, I could come up with something. I liked the connection I made in my last post between communion and the distribution of chocolate on flights arriving in Switzerland, but was stumped when a reader asked what the spiritual significance might be for the chocolate left on a pillow at night in a fine hotel.

I didn’t know the answer to that one (thanks, Michael). But I plan to keep looking for connections – and keep kissing too, if the job requires it.

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

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9 Responses to The three kisses

  1. Carel January 28, 2014 at 7:07 am #

    Im glad to see that you’ve already learned about this custom. Very important to remember to start left (on the right cheek of your kissing partner), because if you’d go for the right (left cheek) first and your partner goes for your right cheek, you tend to end up in the middle, which is even for Swiss (and Dutch) too much intimacy…

    • Doug January 28, 2014 at 7:10 am #

      I plan to keep practicing until I get it right, Carel!

  2. Dave Bayer January 28, 2014 at 7:25 am #

    You have come a long way Doug. After your first Sunday at First Pres, and after she greeted you following the service, a lady told me “Doug gave a great sermon, but he is not a very good hugger.” I’m sure she will be pleased with your continued progress!

    Stay warm!

    • Doug January 28, 2014 at 7:28 am #

      Have always been a slow but persistent learner…

  3. Sheila Banach January 28, 2014 at 10:39 am #

    first kilts, then kisses…your getting well rounded in your travels

  4. Jack Henke January 28, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

    Hi Doug, I am enjoying your Blog! Keep it up. We miss you inA2! Jack

    • Doug January 29, 2014 at 1:17 am #

      Miss you too, Jack. I hope you’re doing well!

  5. Georgia Hamilton January 28, 2014 at 4:56 pm #

    So much fun to read about your first impressions, Doug. I had to smile! It’s difficult to picture reserved Doug giving not one, but three kisses! You’re getting into these European customs quite easily—good for you!


  6. Pat Locke January 29, 2014 at 12:17 pm #

    Spiritual significance? Three kisses? The Trinity, of course! 🙂