The cheek of it all

Alex Ritman is not very friendly. Here’s why

The Knowledge

Call me a loner if you must, but I never want to meet another female in person again. In fact, just to make it easier, I’m waving goodbye to socialising altogether and will soon be locking myself away with a lifetime supply of baked beans, toilet paper and air freshener. I’m not one of those guys who are scared of talking to girls. I’ve entertained many a lucky mademoiselle with one of my hilarious anecdotes. It’s just the initial cheek-to-cheek kissing that terrifies me.

Back in the emotionally repressed landscape of Britain I never had this problem. A solid, dependable shake of the hands was the solution to everyone’s greeting needs.

But out here in this cultural ‘melting pot’, it seems the air kiss is king when meeting (most) lady folk. Hello, kiss. Goodbye, kiss kiss. You must try the carrot cake, kiss. Sorry, too much traffic, kiss kiss kiss. It’s demented. And, worst of all, it’s totally unregulated. Without any guidelines, hordes of clueless western expat men are roaming free with a multitude of unanswered questions.

Who should you cheek kiss? How many should you give? Left or right first? At what stage of your friendship should the cheek kiss be introduced? And when is the cheeky bum squeeze an acceptable accompaniment?

What if there’s a close female friend stood next to her mate you’ve never met before? Are you expected to greet both the same or simply downgrade from cheek kiss to handshake as you move along? And – heading in slightly more implausible directions – what if there is a line of girls, but the ordering goes: close friend, stranger, close friend, stranger, close friend, stranger? I’ll give you the answer: turn and run.

Timeframe too. Once a week? Every day? If you go to the supermarket are you expected to deliver cheek kisses on both departure and return? I’ve seen colleagues embrace like long-lost family members beneath a cloud of kisses every single time they passed. They’re dead now, they had to go.

As always, the biggest issue across Dubai is the amount. One kiss, two kisses, three, who knows? Not westerners, that’s for sure. Parties often see ‘one cheekers’ and ‘two cheekers’ mingling in the same room as ‘one cheek and a huggers’ and even ‘three cheekers’, resulting in hundreds of unrequited pecks strewn about like discarded kittens (sad ones, with big eyes). Last week, one girl threw a rather unexpected third cheek kiss in my direction. I didn’t reciprocate. She was left hanging in the air. I pulled back. She laughed nervously. Nobody has seen her since.

The solution is simple. A national standard – Dubai’s Cheek Kiss Charter, if you will – needs to be written to cover all of the aforementioned issues. A booklet – with diagrams – needs to be produced and widely distributed. Until this happens, I’m going to remain locked away. On my own. With my baked beans. But hurry up, the air freshener is already running low.

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