Beso Interrupted


When picking up the girls from school, there are always droves of parents waiting outside of the institution’s gates, naturally congregating into groups of 2, 3 and 4 people having intense conversations.

Now, as we’ve talked about in the past, part of the greeting ritual here in Argentina is that when you see people you know, regardless of how engrossed in each other they may be, you barge in and insert yourself, giving everyone the Argentine cheek buss to say hello.

As an American, I have the hardest time doing this. It is literally impossible for me to bust up a discussion amongst people happily chatting just so I can kiss everyone. I can’t help it — I feel rude! Especially if I break into a particularly heated conversation and have nothing to say or add to it.

Not kissing everyone at all times, of course, leads me to the funny situation of being rude in this culture while trying not to violate cultural norms of rudeness from my own country. *sigh* It’s so complicated!

I had an interesting greeting situation happen a while back though that taught me the cheek smooching thaaang is not entirely universal.

You see, I was at a weekend birthday party pick up that involved a bus dropping off our kids outside of the school grounds. I was the second parent there waiting, the first was a dad whom I didn’t really know. We nodded and said, “Hi.” After that, about 5 or 6 dads came, and each one stayed equidistant from the others. They would all nod to each other and offer a short “Como te vas?” or “Como andas?”

It wasn’t until a Porteño mom showed up, floating around kissing all of the equidistant dads, that the cheek bussing started. I was intrigued.

I remember hearing that the beso greeting is relatively new here in Argentina, and, in fact, some older residents are not really fond of the the cheek press/air smack upon arrival or departure. Perhaps these middle-aged dads are on the cusp of the custom, and left to their own devices, are not so comfortable with it themselves!

10 Responses to “Beso Interrupted”

  1. Dennis

    I’m no expert, but I would attribute it to 1) a bit of machismo in that man-to-man besos are much more limited to (in my limited experience) family, well-known friends or neighbors (barrios), not relative unknowns or associates, 2) if your American-ness was apparent or well-known, that could also lead to less besos for you. I’ve felt that my reticence has been apparent in certain circumstances, and they accepted and moved on.

    Consulting my wife just now (we’re not middle-aged, you know from previous discussions about how old we are). She’s Argentine. She said that just the opposite to what you said is true. Besos have been around forever. It is the younger generation, business generation, that is probably doing it less.

  2. Michele

    And here I thought you were an expert on besos Dennis!

    First, I want to make it clear that I’m not complaining about a lack of besos, per se. Nor am I uncomfortable with the act of kissing for greetings and saying goodbyes. I am actually commenting on the insertion process for obtaining them in larger group settings and the fact that I just don’t feel comfortable doing it! The converse is true too, when I’m deep in a conversation with a parent or two, it always freaks me out when someone swoops in from behind me and jumps in the middle of us for their smooch! In American culture, it’s polite to lurk on the outskirts of conversing groups until there is a lull in the conversation, and then you jump in…thus the conundrum. Social insertion is very different here — it’s not just the kiss.

    I don’t want to be passing on incorrect information about the origin of the kissing, but Argentinian friends have told me that while kissing used to be common with friends and family, it was not necessarily so betwixt acquaintances and professionals. For that reason, they have said that if you are meeting an elderly person for the first time, especially in a professional setting, you may not want to jump in for the kiss out of the gate. But, perhaps they are wrong! Hey, I have a broken back and just lay around all day, maybe I’ll research it…okay, I probably won’t.

  3. Dennis

    OK, I wasn’t trying to contradict your discussion of the “insertion process”. I haven’t specifically noticed it before, but thinking a bit about I can now see exactly what you mean. I am definitely on the outskirt-lurking side of this, even to the extent of just remaining there until some in the group invites me in, here or the US.

    And what you’ve described in your second paragraph nearly exactly matches my understanding. Just change the “used to be” to “is”. Kissing is common/universal with friends and family. Elders (other than relatives) and professional settings definitely call for much less to no besos, although you will see it in some business situations, particularly co-workers. For example, I’ve seen it many times where as a co-worker is leaving (such as at a Disco), they’ll go down the line of registers giving besos to each of the others. (*) In some ways, it kind of falls along the su/tu lines, but that clearly isn’t exact (and I’m still very frightened of that line).

    (*) I also saw it at the Registro when I was picking up my DNI. The 100-ish people waiting saw the workers all slowly leaving and giving besos to all of the others at around 4pm, until there was only one person working! Fortunately, as I was contemplating what I was going to do, she called my name. This was the final step of what for most can be a 1-2 year process.

  4. Michele

    Your DNI story sounds awful — I can’t imagine the sinking feeling of having all of those government employees do the beso dance and leave while you were still in line!

  5. melissa s.

    maybe it’s like the unwritten rule that men don’t use urinals right next to each other, even if they’re friends. not sure how i came to know this, but Brian assures me that it’s a guy no-no.

  6. Michele

    Mel, my first action after reading your comment was to swivel to Tom and ask, “is that true?” He confirmed for me that it is true, which then made me laugh and hurt the crap out of my back! Quit spreading the joy Ms. Sheets, you’re going to kill me!

  7. Dennis

    1) Yes, I’ll confirm it too. Men are all talk. We never want to show our “cards”, nor be accused of peaking at someone else’s “cards”. Have you seen the movie “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”? The scene where Steve Martin and John Candy wake up in bed in the hotel together about covers it. Men will remember the scene. Women, maybe not.

    2) While walking out with the DNI in my hand, I heard an American mother (I saw the whole family there) clearly talking to her lawyer-type saying “What do we do? Do we wait?” I wished her luck.

    You actually could come in any day *after* a certain date to pick up your DNI. You just get in one line, turn in the document/receipt you previously received, sit and wait a while while they type something in the computer for the group of receipts just collected, and then are directed to another room (mentioned above) for a long wait while they process all of the people. The sticky point is that you’ve already turned in your receipt! You can’t leave and come back a different day!

    It is also humorous that they carefully type something in to the computer, as the entire DNI you receive later is filled out in longhand!

    3) I talked to my wife some more about the “insertion process”. She said that what you describe is true (as you know :-), but that it also now really bothers her as well after spending about 10 years in the US. She can’t handle the closeness as much now either, proximity when talking, bumping without acknowledgment/saying excuse me.

  8. Michele

    *laugh* I do remember that scene from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Your DNI process reminds me of going to the post office to pick up a package! Lots of different rooms and different waiting…all stressful and all utterly lacking any transparency!

  9. Mercedes

    I have a different explanation…I guess dads aren’t usually the ones picking up their kids from school and they may not know who is who -I know my husband doesn’t know any of the parents at school. I also think there is a little bit of “urinal ” attitude as well.

    I am Argentine and I have always hated the kissing thing. I feel exactly the way you do about jumping in and interrupting…I know I may come off as distant, cold, rude… I don’t care. I just say Hi and that’s it. You will always be forgiven for being a foreigner…I don’t believe so much in the “In Rome, do as the Romans do” philosophy applied to all situations.

  10. Michele

    Mercedes, you might be right! The urinal dads who don’t know each other — not really a rousing endorsement of men, is it? I smiled at your vehemence over the kissing customs. Thankfully we have the “foreigner forgiveness” thing working for us, which we use shamelessly and in myriad situations. Whatever will I do when I go back to the US and can’t shrug off my social faux pas as being due to general gringo incompetence!?!

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