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MADRID—Living here this summer has taught me that I’m a bad kisser.
No, I have not gotten in touch with my promiscuous side whilst overseas. But while I’ve accepted most of Spanish culture with relative ease—learning to mentally convert euros to dollars and kilometers to miles, to survive without peanut butter, and to not get hungry for dinner until nine or ten in the evening — my attempts to navigate the double-kiss-in-lieu-of-handshake that Spaniards use to greet one another have been nothing but an awkward and embarrassing struggle.
People say hello here via a quick peck on each cheek. This practice, I’ve learned, is not just a way to greet close friends, but is an all-but-mandatory method for addressing pretty much anyone. And though I’ve managed to get the hang of finding my way around the city, the work required for my internship, and how many tapas to order to make up a full dinner, I have yet to properly learn exactly how or when to initiate the double kiss.
On more than one occasion, I have misread the signals and gone in for either a hug or a handshake. Even when I do read the situation correctly, I struggle. I’m fairly certain that my lips aren’t actually supposed to make contact with the other person’s cheeks, and so I devote an excessive amount of mental concentration toward ensuring I aim properly and only kiss the air. I’m also continually unsure of where to appropriately place my hands, and in a misguided attempt to avoid uncomfortably caressing a stranger, I tend to just lean forward with my arms stuck straight out to the sides, like a bird that can’t quite balance right.
I also lack the confidence to initiate the greeting. Since kissing strangers is such a foreign concept to me, I doubt myself and have trouble believing that the practice is truly appropriate, particularly when meeting people at work. My solution has been to wait for my new acquaintance to initiate the double-kiss, which results in a couple seconds of uncomfortable eye contact after I am introduced to someone as I wait nervously and I can only imagine appear either rudely aloof or incredibly awkward.
Who knew that the simplest of cultural differences would give me so much trouble?
Sprinkled with government buildings, embassies, and traffic circles featuring impressive statues and fountains, my home in Spain’s capital city is not too far a cry from my hometown near our capital city back in the U.S. (they even call the subway here the Metro!) After over a month living here, Madrid definitely feels comfortable and familiar.
But still, I miss handshakes.
Stephanie G. Franklin ’16, a Crimson editorial writer, is a social studies concentrator in Dunster House.
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