If you have a Dutch friend it is inevitable that at some point during your friendship they will try to kiss you. It’s a simple fact. They can’t control themselves. However, when this does happen it is important to not get to excited (or scared). It is not necessarily a sign that they have finally given into your animal magnetism and wish to take your friendship to the next level. No. You have probably just encountered the Dutch three kiss rule.
In the Netherlands it is considered quite normal for Dutch people to greet each other with three kisses on the cheek. It is also custom to do the same again when saying good bye. It’s just a friendly way of saying hello and farewell. It’s not limited to the Dutch either. As part of your inburgering process you might be expected to join in too. This can seem rather shocking if you come from a country such as England where shaking hands before the third date is sometimes considered being quite forward. Luckily there are a few unwritten rules to help guide you and stop things becoming too socially awkward.
Who Should I Be Kissing?
Sometimes it is hard to know just how familiar you have to be with someone before you should start kissing them on the cheeks every time you see them. I see my dentist on a regular occasion but should I start kissing him on the cheeks three times before he starts my six month check up? What about the people on the train that I see every day but don’t actually know the names of yet? Should I be working my way down the train carriage, kissing each of them three times on the cheeks as I go? Probably not. It would seem that it is best to only use the three kiss greeting with close friends and family (unless you want to course a scene or be forced to find a new dentist).
But Who Kisses Who?
Depending on how you look at it, it would seem that the ladies have drawn the short straw when it comes to cheek kissing. They are expected to kiss and get kissed by everyone. Men, women, children… house hold pets if they are really unlucky. However, men are only expected to cheek kiss women. This seems to be an unwritten rule that they might have had some involvement in the writing of (if it had been written down).
Real vs. Fake
There is some debate over whether the kisses given should be real kisses or fake air kisses. There seem to be variations on the rule. However, all parties involved tend to agree that it is not good etiquette to lick your lips and proceed to make the other person cheeks very wet.
Left, Right, Left or Right, Left, Right?
It is a good idea to have some kind of signal worked out beforehand for who is going to go which way first. Get it wrong and there is a high risk that your friendship will suddenly become far more intimate than before or (if at a family gathering) you will never hear the end of the story about the time you tried to make out with your Grandmother (Oma).
Kissing Like An Expat
Equally confusing is what happens when neither of you are Dutch. Do you still follow the Dutch three kiss rule or do the greeting rules of your own country apply? What if you are both from different countries with different rules? What then? Which rule overrides which? One kiss? Two kisses? Three? Four?! FIVE??!!
And what about the extremely awkward moments where one of you goes in for a kiss but the other goes in for a hug (and you end up accidently kissing their neck) or a handshake (and you end up randomly kissing the air in front of their face)?
And even the Dutch don’t know what to do sometimes. It can be very confusing. What are you supposed to do as a Dutch person when faced with a group of expats? Kiss? Hug? Shake hands? Nod? Give them a friendly punch on the arm? Rub noses? The whole thing can be very distressing.
Birthday Cheek Kissing
If you are attending someone’s birthday it is often expected split up the word ‘gefeliciteerd’ while kissing them on the cheek three times as if attempting some kind of ventriloquist trick.
Ge… *kiss* …felic… *kiss* …iteerd *kiss*
And finally… A Word of Warning
Be careful when dealing with the elderly. They have become extremely cheeky in their old age and will try to bend the rules of the three kiss system. They have gone rouge.
Maybe you notice that their first cheek kiss was dangerously close to the corner of your mouth. It could have been an accident. Maybe their eye sight is not so good any more. So you take extra precaution on the second kiss and try to steer them more towards the cheek area with an extra turn of your head. However, they seem to resist your attempts and the second kiss lands right on the corner of your mouth. You feel part of their lips on yours! With a sudden horror you realize there is still one more kiss to go and it was not an accident. They are zeroing in, getting closer and closer. They are actually attempting to kiss you! There is only one terrifying question that fills your mind at that point. What do I do? What do I do?!
For that I have no answer. You are on your own!
This cartoon first appeared in the May/June edition of DUTCH:The Magazine, a bi-monthly magazine for Dutch descendants and expats living in Canada.
On my way back from having a few beers with friends I decided to pass by my old Amsterdam apartment. I’d been curious to see it again for a while.
As I cycled through the old neighbourhood and saw that much of the area had been torn down, rebuilt and renovated I suddenly felt myself getting nervous that my old apartment might no longer be there. What if it was gone?
But it was still there, looking as old and run down as ever. I was surprised by the level of nostalgia that hit me upon seeing it. I certainly had not lived there for long. Only three months in fact, back when I first arrived in the country 13 years ago.
It had not been an amazing apartment either. In fact it was badly run down and in desperate need of repair even back then but seeing it again made me feel happy as a flood of memories came back.
As I cycle back to the station I began to looked around me and suddenly noticed just how much Amsterdam had changed. There were parts that I couldn’t even remember how they used to look and some that I was happy to see had not changed at all.
Once again I was surprised by the nostalgia that this made me feel. Not because the nostalgia itself felt strange but because, in that moment, I suddenly felt more nostalgia here, in this city I had moved to when I was 21, than I sometimes feel when I return to my home country of England.
At first I wondered why I would feel this way but it did not take long for the answer to come to me.
I was 21 when I moved to Holland. I had not yet fully worked out who I was and what I was going to do with my life. I was taking my first steps of independence in a country I didn’t even know and of course I made a few mistakes and had to find my way.
I am 35 now. I have a wife and a child of my own. My goal and meaning in life are clear now.
I might have grown up in England but I ‘grew up’ in Holland. I became my own person in Holland. I think that tonight I suddenly realized, in some ways, Holland is now more my home than England. And I’m strangely ok with that.
Not because I have anything against England or that it has less of a place in my heart. It will always be my true home, I will always love it and I will always miss my parents. But Holland is the place where I really figured out who I am and grew into the person I am now.
And that is why the places along that personal journey, like that old run down apartment that I only lived in for those first three months feel so important to me.
That is why I felt so happy to see the old place still standing and looking as run down as ever.
This post was originally written sentence by sentence on Twitter. Only a few alterations and fixes have been made. At the time I was thinking about writing it down on paper first to get it just right but I knew that I had to get it committed somewhere (twitter) before I tried to put too much thought into it and analyse what I was feeling. Thanks for reading. I know it’s a big departure from my normal writing.
During my recent return visit to England I made a shocking discovery.
I was simply trying to enjoy some time off work and a chance to catch up with friends and family. I certainly was not attempting to uncover any dark or sinister secret but I found one anyway while looking through the cupboards in my parent’s kitchen. It’s not the kind of place you usually expect to make earth shattering discoveries but there it was, impossible to ignore, nestled between a jar of strawberry jam and peanut butter spread. I had been quite unprepared to encounter it.
A jar of Caramelized Biscuit Spread…
At least that is what the label said but I knew what it really was. They might have changed the name but there was no mistaking its true identity. It seems that the highly addictive substance known as ‘Speculoos Sandwich Spread’ has found its way across the border and infiltrated my home country of England.
I can only assume that the name change was how it was able to enter the country un-noticed in such large quantities. It was a smart move. Although I am surprised that it worked since it is essentially like rebranding ‘cocaine’ as ‘harmless white powder’ so that it can be sold in the local super market.
I tried to raise the alarm with the local authorities but my warnings fell upon deaf ears (maybe they were already addicted). There was nothing I could do. No one would listen. I fear it will not be long before the whole of England is addicted. There may be no stopping it.
And then what will happen next? Is it only a matter of time before English shops start selling Hagelslag? Knapperige Hagels? Stroopwafels? Where will it end?
The following conversation took place during a drive back from London, after passing through a street with a great many speed bumps (something that England is famous for):
(From the back seat)
“Do you have speed bumps in Holland?”
My Dutch Wife
(From the passenger seat)
“Yes. Since we don’t have hills we need speed bumps, otherwise the country really would be completely flat.”