When we travel, we may not realize how moments will affect us in the future. This is Part 2 of a 2 part series on the overlap between my Australian and Italian cultural experiences. Be sure to read Part 1 first. If you like what you see, why not subscribe to my feed?
Australia — It doesn’t get much closer to home (metaphorically) than Oz (except for perhaps living in Canada, but why would I do that?). At least that’s what I pictured last year when making the move from Ukraine. Anything… anything would seem more like home than trying to manage another month in yet another former Soviet republic.
For the most part, life was amazing. The ability to get the day to day done without much drama (because we speak the same language) was awesome, and the variety of food available at my fingertips was unbelievable. Craving spicy Indian or Korean? Not a problem, mate!
Then it happened. “What?” you might ask.
I met a large group of Australian guys, my boyfriend’s friends to be more specific, that I had never met before in my life. We happened to be sitting at a bar, and I’m sure I kind of zoned out into my own thoughts as each new member trickled in. If it was a girl, Pat would proceed to greet them with a kiss on the cheek; if it was a boy, a hand shake or a five was in order. At the time, though, I was kind of oblivious to this. Meeting new people meant I wasn’t involved in the same greetings of old friends.
I threw out a couple of handshakes across the table and chatted the night away from the booth-side of the gathering, but time to roll led us all down to the Chatswood streets; some of us were jetting off, while others were making it a late one. As I turned to say my goodbyes to the guys with more drinking on their minds, one in particular got a little too close for comfort.
I’d like to say that my reaction was completely valid. I think anytime a man is leaning forward – with their chin pushed out, apparently intoxicated, and still seemingly unfamiliar – gives cause for a girl to put up the refusal face. And, just like with Davide, there was merely enough time to slightly move the head so that he kissed my cheek.
The funny part is that this guy was not making a move on me; he was actually going for my cheek!
“Play it cool, Brooke,” I told myself after receiving the shock.
Luckily, there was no need to play it cool. The rest of the group was too inebriated to have noticed, so I stood firm and calm as the others did the same–invading my personal space and getting too close for comfort while they planted bits of saliva onto my cheek. Kill me.
Dude, I don’t kiss my friends.
And, I definitely don’t kiss people I just met. To be honest, I don’t even greet my family with a kiss. Sure, that might make me a little bit on the more extreme side, but the rule of thumb that we take notice of on our first trips abroad is that Americans like their personal space. I, my friends, am one big FAT AMERICAN when it comes to this!
But, I try. I try first to hang back and give everyone a hello wave and verbal greeting. The hope is to play it cool, while also staying out of the direct line of fire. Sometimes it works, and when it doesn’t, I hold my breath and let the space invasion begin.
The problem is that no one is ever missed. Not a single one… ever. It’s like people cannot enter or exit a room without having to touch
someone everyone, whether it be by a kiss on the cheek or a simple high five.
Only a high five I could actually take; at least then you know what to do with your hands.
There’s nothing like adding awkward to an already uncomfortable situation.
These greetings are one of the reasons why I was nervous about meeting my boyfriend’s family. Not only is meeting your significant other’s relatives already weird enough, but here you are also confronted with more people to invade your space. Still, I try. I try to hang back and out of the line of fire, hoping that I will be overlooked! Still, that didn’t one day keep his dad from catching one on the lips.
He did what?!
Yeah, before you get all freaked out like I was, I guess I should probably point out that I noticed Patrick’s Asian side of the family will sometimes kiss others on the lips, even the men. I guess that’s how they roll in that family. Me, however… let’s just say I felt totally violated in every way (I hope they aren’t reading this right now).
So, I had to warn my mom.
Up until recently, Patrick thought I was being pretty extreme about all of this cheek kissing nonsense. The truth is that it drives me crazy! Luckily, I’m not alone in my despair. It came to our attention that our flatmate, a girl originally from Zambia, feels the exact same pain and awkwardness that I do (taking her up a level on my cool scale). My mom, as well, can also be added to this list.
“Mom,” I said. “Patrick’s parents might try to kiss you, so just be aware that it is normal for them.”
“What?! I just won’t let them!” she said back in typical Brooke-defiance.
She almost got away with it, too, but sometimes there’s just nothing you can do. Heck, even my cool work buddies turned into space invaders. Sure, that took 10 months and me leaving to happen, but it was unexpected and a disappointment to say the least.
Haven’t you been through this already?
Yes, I have. I have lived in both Italy and Spain for a period of time and have dealt with cheek-kissing on more occasions than I can count. Perhaps the big shock for me still is the fact that I associate Australia with being so close to America (relatively) so it just doesn’t seem right.
Over time, I’ve given in to this Australianism quite a bit. With people I know and am generally close with, I just expect it. With people I just met, however, that’s still *very* weird (but I expect it). As with anything, time has made a difference.
But there’s still the hands issue. For some reason, no matter how smoothly the whole greeting session goes, I cannot stop being drawn to my hands. Where do I put them? Should I plant them on myself, far away from the person I’m greeting? That wouldn’t have anything to do with a certain ring stealing Italian boy from years back… or would it?