9 Kissing Customs From Around the World in Honor of International Kissing Day

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In North America and other westernized civilizations, we tend to put kissing on a puckered-up pedestal. As well we should: the practice, while strange if you think about it too much, burns calories; has been shown to help you live longer; helps people size up potential mates; and probably landed Titanic at least a few of its 11 Oscars. But while we’re celebrating the passionate mouth-to-mouth style we know and love (like, really love: research has found the average person spends approximately 20,160 minutes of his or her life kissing) on this International Kissing Day, elsewhere in the world, kissing looks and feels a whole lot different (if it’s practiced at all).


There’s more to what is known as “Eskimo kissing” than meets the eye—or nose, in this case. In addition to the rubbing together of noses (a way to show affection in Arctic temperatures without exposing one’s mouth to the harsh elements, some say), the practice common among the Inuit tribes of Alaska and Canada also involves inhaling the scent of the other person’s face. Similar customs can be found in Maori tribes in New Zealand and around the Pacific.


Fans of enthusiastic make-out sessions have the French to thank for their passionate pastime. Tongue kissing is thought to have been brought back to the U.S. following World War I when returning soldiers greeted their girlfriends and wives with kisses like the ones they’d seen overseas between the less prudish Europeans. Despite France getting credit for the slobbery style, the French word for kissing with tongue, galocher, wasn’t officially added to their dictionaries until 2014.


Depending on the region, a typical kiss on the cheek can come in sets of one, two, or three. In Switzerland, the Netherlands, Slovenia and elsewhere, a casual greeting involves three pecks on alternating cheeks (right, left, right). In Italy and France, friendly hellos involve only two kisses, one on each cheek. In some middle eastern countries, cheek kisses are limited to people of the same gender as men and women kissing in public is considered inappropriate.


Getting a smooch at midnight is as much a part of New Year’s Eve as Champagne flutes and glittery cardboard crowns. The tradition is likely rooted in English and German folklore, according to USA Today. People believed the first person you came across in the new year could determine how the new year would go, so seeking out a lip-lock with someone you presumably already liked in the new year’s first moments soon seemed like a smart way to stack the deck in one’s favor.


For all their fanfare in Spin the Bottle games and Nicholas Sparks movies, romantic mouth-on-mouth kisses are not actually the universal human expression of love many believe them to be. Anthropologists at the University of Nevada published research last year that found that more than half of the 168 diverse cultures they studied around the world did not take part in romantic kissing as a way of getting in the mood at all. Instead, other intimate gestures like sniffing each other’s cheeks and necks, passing open mouths past each other, and exchanging of breath are common in some sub-Saharan tribes and communities along the equator.


The rules when it comes to a proper hand kiss are a little complicated. The act can be traced to ancient Greece and Rome, and subsequently the Middle Ages, when a subordinate kissed his lord’s hand as a sign of respect. It then evolved into a display of gallantry between gentlemen and ladies, and though its popularity has seriously waned over the years, hand kissing remains an old school but in-use salutation in places like England and Germany. Etiquette dictates men are not to kiss a lady’s palm, or an unmarried girl’s hand, or the hand of a gloved woman.


When you take a step back and consider that mistletoe is actually a semi-parasitic plant that sucks the life and nutrients from other plants, the idea that we use it to prompt holiday kisses seems bizarre. But then again, the most common historic explanation for why we kiss under the mistletoe at Christmastime is pretty bizarre, too. Scandinavian legend has it that Baldur, the god of spring and light, feared that bad dreams meant his life was in danger. So Baldur's mother, Frigg, circled the world asking each tree, stretch of sand, and animal not to hurt him.

Unfortunately for mother and son, she totally forgot to run it by the mistletoe plant and, what do you know, Baldur died after being pierced with mistletoe. Frigg would never underestimate mistletoe again—and neither would the thousands of uncomfortable coworkers who would find themselves under the hanging plant at their office Christmas party in the centuries to come. Frigg's tears became the berries on the plant, and her wish became that "mistletoe would never again be used as a weapon and that she would place a kiss on anyone who passed under it."


Even in the U.S. where kissing is king, some parts of the country seem to have some strangely specific legalities when it comes to tonsil hockey. For instance, in Indiana, it’s technically illegal for a man to have a mustache if he "has a tendency to habitually kiss other humans." Kissing a sleeping woman is forbidden by law in Colorado, and in Alexandria, Minnesota, it's against the law for a man to get busy with his wife if his breath smells of onion, garlic, or sardines. Guess your mustache-having, soporific, bad-breathed friend is out of luck on his next road trip.


Kissing the ground someone has walked on is seen as sign of respect in some places in the world, like Africa. And of course, there's the idea of being so happy to be somewhere—say, back home, or back on dry land—that you literally kiss the ground out of gratitude. The custom may seem a little gross, but then again, so is the other kind of kissing—a full-on tongue kiss has been shown to spread more than 80 million new bacteria from kisser to kissee. How romantic.

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