Time to lighten up – thanks to Malaysian for the prompt.

We’ve all been there, in close proximity to another human who may or may not require kissing and all your brain can do is go through the thousands of possible permutations leaving your body language caught somewhere between indifference and rapturous slobbering.

Who are we supposed to kiss, what kind of kiss and how many – even after so many years I’m still confused but here we attempt to shed a little light (Polandian speak for more questions than answers) on the arcane world of Polish kiss-greeting.


On the face of it it should be easy to work out, right? Family members get a big kiss, friends get a small one, acquaintances get a handshake, strangers get nothing. Job done, sorted, but it is so much more subtle than that. There are more layers to it, variations on a theme – is the kissee old or young, what’s the occasion, how good a friend are they, are they kissy people themselves, who makes the approach, who to kiss first (in a group situation), what style of kiss is appropriate, what if the kissee has a beard or Herpes?

It wouldn’t be so bad if an inappropriate kiss-greeting was a trifling faux pas that wouldn’t be noticed or talked about but this is serious stuff. A poor kiss-greet is about as unnoticeable as saying “Wow, you’re much older than I imagined!” when being introduced to the Queen.

One of the easier things to pin down is the number of kisses. Unlike certain Mediterranean types, the official Polish kiss-greet consists of three kisses. I don’t know whether this should be left-right-left or right-left-right nor even if the sides matter. With me it’s purely a matter of logistics and there are even times when I do three on the same side all at once, babcia usually. Go on, arrest me!

The only other variation is the single kiss and it’s kind of difficult to work this one out. Is one kiss reserved for people you know well, there’s an implied three kisses but we’ll stick to one to save time and be cool? Or is one kiss essentially an economy class kiss-greet and reserved for people who don’t warrant the full three? In my experience it can be just a case of saving time and it can be more of a friends thing but the safest option is always to pucker up for three and see how it goes.

An alternative tactic is to give one kiss and then withdraw, but not retreat. This gives you the option of mounting a second attack if required or alternatively to go into full retreat. There is much written about this, for example in Wikipedia:

A withdrawal is a type of military operation, generally meaning retreating forces back while maintaining contact with the enemy. A withdrawal may be undertaken as part of a general retreat, to consolidate forces, to occupy ground that is more easily defended, or to lead the enemy into an ambush. It is considered a relatively risky operation, requiring discipline to keep from turning into a disorganized rout.

As they say, this does require a great deal of discipline to avoid the kiss-greet turning into a disorganized rout with the couple pecking at each other like rabid hens until they just give up and shuffle off to stroke the cat.

Irrespective of the number of kisses, what about the technique itself. I think here we have a couple of points – contact and noise. If contact is required then you either go in with lips blazing or you go for a glancing blow, more of a cheek stroke than a kiss. Where are you aiming for? Probably not the lips but are we square in the centre of the cheek, more toward the ear or closer to the mouth? If contact is only optional then you can avoid contact completely but I expect in these cases the noise factor is going to be more important. In the no-contact version it also helps to keep saying things like “Darling!”.


Finally you have the issue of who gets a kiss, who doesn’t and who gets the “Yo Bro!” back-slap, shoulder-butt thing. This is by far the tangliest web of them all and I confess to be in dire need of a lifeboat here. My advice is to take your cue from others (and to hope that there are others). I’ve been caught out both ways, extended a hand and then had to keep leaning into it to morph gracefully into a kiss-greet and equally often overcome by that awkward realisation that you’re the only one in the room who’s trying to kiss everyone.

In conclusion, I think there is no right answer. Official form is – approach, plant three on the cheeks and retire – but there are so many accepted variations as to make this useless as anything other than a back-up plan. I wish you the best of luck with your kiss-greets and remember, whatever you decide to do, be confident and do it with style!

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11 thoughts on “Kissiquette

  1. Steven says:

    Yes, and how do you greet a thirteen year old who is drunk and looks 19 ? Is this an illegal kiss ?

  2. Interesting. The late Princess Maria Sapieha once firmly told me off for attempting the usual decorous Polish three kiss farewell with her. She said that it was an odious tradition brought in after WW2 by the Communists – in Society two kisses had been and remained the correct form.

    She of course was old enough to remember such details – she was a little girl in St Petersburg before the Russian Revolution.

    Maybe Polandia’s readers can cast more light on the class aspects of the Polish triplet kiss (also the Bosnian formula, by the way)..?

  3. Ania says:

    Oh, diplomatic life! That must be fun! … I better not try, though :(

    I’m thinking back now – it seems from memory that when females like Aunties, spinsters and show-offs want to appear hospitable, they will lean far out, kiss three times loudly and make lots of giggling noises. Good friends will give a big old hug and maybe one kiss. I sometimes kiss Grandmother, then hug, then kiss, then hug a lot – depending on how long it’s been since last family feast. Uncles only kiss once, they make up for the rest with joking. And people sometimes kiss twice if they already know each other – but since there can be no claim of ‘the correct form’ as there is no middle class to do the aspiring – I just don’t know if that’s the original custom.
    I’m sure that in the environment of PRL bonzos there are some prescribed forms, but I don’t wish to know them.

  4. Steven says:

    Yes, I have also been told that the three kiss is a communist tradition. Younger Poles and those aware of this always stop at two.

  5. Malaysian says:

    Hello Scatts,

    This is an amazing article:-) My polish friends told me that three kisses on the cheek are generally reserved for family members whereas one kiss on cheek is for friends (they never told me though, the proximity of these friends:)).

    However, one particular friend has insisted on giving her three every time we meet, making each occasion seems odd because after I finish the first one and retreated, she would still be in a ‘where’s my two other kisses?’ position.

    p/s : Thanks for acknowledging me in the beginning of the article:)

  6. Scatts, savage stuff.

    It has long been a slurry pit conundrum for me, particularly same gender greetings. Recently, I returned to Poland after a 15 month respite. I was greeted by my girlfriend’s male cousin with a tri-kiss, starting and finishing up on the centre-left cheek. Saliva was not passed at any stage from what I could feel. The noise was perfectly pitched on his behalf, given the enclosed surroundings of the corridor and similar antics occurring between his wife and my girlfriend. If a kiss could speak his would have said: ‘I greet you amicably Irish man and dear one to my cousin’. I’m guessing that my kiss would have spoke the following: ‘Thank God I don’t have a horn.’

    I had initially naturally extended the right hand in my act of greeting, but by that mysterious non-physical force that hints at and nudges you forward to complete the full act as the other intends, I rapidly dried and pursed my lips just in case I misdirected my blows to his cheek and he got the wrong idea.

    I have only ever met him at family occasions. He’s a very sound skin and about my age. I deemed his greeting a very warm one and it made me feel very much apart of my girlfriend’s clan.

    On the other hand, when I meet my girlfriend’s father, I am graced with a solitary peck. Her grandfather, who I rarely meet is another tri-kisser. It’s a pretty comfortable encounter as he somewhat takes control of the whole act and I am merely a stationary passenger, as his powerful hands and the friendship being emitted by his greeting overwhelms me that I can hardly ever recall what I have done in return. I think the noise he makes clouds anything muttered from my gob.

    With colleagues it’s a mere handshake. I recently got engaged and received some semi-hugs, heads being kept safe distance from each other.

    Do you have any insights as to same gender greetings in Poland, especially between men? Are there regional variations within Poland?

  7. yellerbelly says:

    Funny enough I had this exact problem today. I think the victim of my attempt was so shocked that I approached her, that after one kiss (my only intention), she unexpectedly started to turn her head and move in for more. I was, of course, quite unprepared for this and rather rudely withdrew (unconsciously). The whole situation was made rather awkward and we both smiled, murmured something quietly under our breaths, and wandered off in seperate directions. Another miserable ex-pat failure.

    Three seems to be standard, but in my opinion, some situations do not warrant this. Is it not perhaps a little too informal to bombard, say work colleagues, with three kisses? Or does this depend on the occasion? The mother-in-law definately only gets 1. Far too spiky for more than that!

  8. Adam says:

    Not if you’re 13 as well and only look like you’re 42 .

  9. PMK says:

    I generally avoid all the kissing unless explicitly offered a cheek (or I’m kind of drunk.) One of the mothers where I stayed skipped all that and grabbed my cheeks in to paws upon which she would lay numerous saliva-laden pecks.

  10. Jerzy Stachowiak says:

    The described custom is totally strange to me. I’ve never practiced kisses, just a handshake, that’s all, no problem. The kisses might be a part of the previous generations’ folk customs that happily have passed away from the modern Polish society. That’s only my opinion.

  11. Poland - cheek kissing says:

    To IrishinPoland:

    As to same gender greetings (between men): from my experience male relatives almost always kiss each other when they greet, even if they are distant relatives and barely know each other. Male friends (unless they are very close friends) rarely kiss – and when they do it’s usually when they haven’t seen each other for a long time or when they congratulate them (namedays, birthdays, weddings etc.). I am quite surprised that many websites say that there’s no cheek-kissing between men in Poland. Certainly not true! All depends on the occasion and who the other person is.

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