The Awkward Greeting Shuffle (AGS)

The Cheek Kiss Gone Wrong: A Miami Girl’s foray into the Awkward Greeting Shuffle.

by: Raine

How its done!

As a denizen of Miami, born and raised, the kiss on the cheek has been a staple of my everyday life. When I meet someone new, I smile, maybe offer a hand…and then I give them a kiss on the cheek. Albeit, most of the time  its more of a brush on the cheek, but a kiss nonetheless. On my way out the door, I make the rounds, give and receive many cheek kisses and go off on my merry way.

*Muah* :-* Beso. Bisou!

Is this normal? Yes. It’s normal if you live in Miami…or South America…or Europe. But I sure didn’t know that before the age of 18 as I happily left home for my first foray into the bold, new world.

Imagine my shock as I walked into my icebreaker event as a freshman at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and had to greet a bunch of nervous, shy and unsure man-children who only wanted to make friends and not drown in all the new experiences they knew were to come. I approached my first unsuspecting target. Little did I know that I was making a target of myself. I smiled as naturally as I could at the blond girl (who was a natural blond, not the bleached blonds you find down here in the 3-0-5) and held out my hand. When she took it, I leaned in for the customary “hello” kiss and received my first shock. She backed away with wide eyes.

Say wha???

Did I have a booger hanging out of my nose? I glanced around and saw people waving awkwardly or waving shy hellos.


I quickly recalled the many t.v. shows I’d watched of white people greeting each other. I say this ironically as I am as white as they come. However, I am from Miami. That is a whole different flava of white girl where we can ACTUALLY dance and, I daresay, kiss on the cheek.

I eventually got used to the rather subdued greeting where personal space seemed to be the goal. After a while I caught on. It was a cultural thing. You just didn’t invade space in public. It wasn’t kosher. That, I could deal with.

Despite his birth in the North east, poor Dubyah really looks like he doesn't like his personal space invaded. He is apart of the cultural South.

When I headed to Colorado for grad school after living in Miami again for several years, I was greeted with the same kissing reticence. However, this time I was prepared with previous experience. I had my handshake ready. But even then I made a faux pas. Most people just waved their hands and smiled! WTF?! It seemed so cold, formal and awkward to me as though a touch would definitely pass along some sort of cooties. But again, I gradually got used to it.

Upon my second return to Miami I continually mused over the fact that even in America there were so many different social norms from coast to coast. For me the interest was in the cultural difference rather than the awkwardness of the situation. But, I still feel awkward on occasion.

Picasso would give one badass cheek kiss!

I had a discussion at a party the other day where a Cuban man could not understand a white person’s or a person from middle America’s inability to kiss on the cheek. Did she think it was a sexual overture? He tried to make a point that many would not kiss on the cheek but would then jump in the back of the car for some of the horizontal tango. It was a very weak point (and a very crazy one at that), but at its core it was a misunderstanding between two people of different social norms. I personally don’t like the Awkward Greeting Shuffle (AGS) where I lean in, but then back up and then the person I’m greeting feels awkward and leans in as well, and then we do the AGS for a few seconds, wondering how to greet while finally ending up patting each other on the back amidst nervous mutterings. However, c’est la vie. If we were all the same, it’d be boring. FO’ REALZ.

My next point of discussion comes from conversations with Asian friends, perusals 0f Asian culture on the internet and *bows her head* my over indulgence in Asian drama. If I make a point that is incorrect, feel free to correct me…with PROOF. (ie: I’m Asian, I formally study Asian culture, I live in Asia, etc.) I don’t mind being wrong, but please teach me something that’s actually useful.

Now, I know in most of Asia, greeting are more formal and unless an Asian is dealing with a westerner, touching generally doesn’t happen on the first greeting. A kiss on the cheek would be embarrassing and downright rude. In a way, however, I admire this. Rules of greeting are very strict and leave little room for uncertainty (or the AGS). It would actually be a comfort to someone such as me to know exactly how to greet someone rather than do the I’m-from-Miami-but-you’re-not-so-what-the-hell-do-I-do shuffle. Personal space is something that is just the norm (just like in North Carolina where I first humiliated myself). But everyone knows about it. If someone from Tokyo visits Kyoto you bow, say my name is, hajimemashite and/or dozo yoroshiku. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.

On that same note, if I travel to South America there will be kisses all around! Hooray! In the same vein as Asian culture, when you greet someone in Argentina, you give them a kiss/hug and off you are to the start of a new acquaintanceship.

The point of this long ramble is that I would really like to know how to greet people wherever I go. But in America you never know what you’re gonna get. I find it easier when I travel to places with longer histories and well-established cultures. Want me to shake your hand? Sure. Want me to bow? Great. Want a kiss (or two) on the cheek? Fo’ shizzle homes. Just let me know. ‘Cause I REALLY hate the AGS.


Happiness is like a kiss – it feels best when you give it to someone else.”

End Rant 2.

11 responses to “The Awkward Greeting Shuffle (AGS)”

  1. I’m laughing so hard right now because it’s so right, I’m Haitian and in my household, kissing on the cheek is like saying hello, good morning and showing respect. I’m in my twenties now and I will still get beat up by my parents if I don’t kiss them on the cheek as a way of greeting.

    For the AGS, I do hugs and I let them know that I don’t do handshakes unless I’m in a business meeting, the person usually laughs and hugs me back, no more AGS, problem solved ^.^

    • KStyle – Haitian hospitality is so awesome. Some of my fondest moments in HS were at my Haitian friends’ homes. Lot’s of hugs and kisses and good food, and loudness.

      It’s just WEIRD to greet any other way for me. Now I just go for it, even if they AGS a bit. They are in Miami. This is how we do it.

      My extended family is always like “Girl, where did you learn how to greet your family?” If I don’t kiss/hug.

  2. Personally I feel really uncomfortable giving someone a kiss on the cheek. You are bang on about Asian culture. I’m sure there are plenty of “hot” guys in South America. Kisses all around!

    • Anywhere but here, I go for a handshake and see what happens. Here I just dive in for the kiss. If you live here, you know its part of the culture. Even white people here do it naturally with each other because its like 70% Hispanic down here and everyone is used to it and, I daresay, enjoys it. If you DON’T do it with a Hispanic person they don’t think you can’t greet properly. Isn’t that insane? Something completely rude to some is more than acceptable to others. This just makes me want to go research other cultures more. I travel a lot. Next on my list is Asia. Technically its England ’cause my friends’ are getting married to each other, but AFTER that…get to bust out my passport and get some NEW stamps. Now when can I do that…

  3. Here in New England when you MEET someone (for the first time) kissing would never happen unless one of the people is exceptionally expressive and then it would be greeted with nervous laughter, if not your AGS. That’s pretty easy to judge. It just would be very rare.

    Handshakes, on the other hand – so dependent on the situation. The more formal the situation the more likely you are to get a handshake. The woman offers her hand to the man, so that’s her choice to initiate physical contact of any type, otherwise the younger offers to the elder as sign of respect. Sometimes you’ll see the quick head bow as an acknowledgement, rather than a handshake. However, handshakes don’t typically happen with people who already know each other well – your close friends, not just acquaintances or casual friends. There, you might see the head LIFT – although that’s most commonly a greeting across a larger space. But if you haven’t seen a close friend in a while, there might be handshake, there might be a hug, there might be a kiss.

    Some women greet and part from their friends with a hug or a hug/sorta kiss combo. Not all do. Many men these days will do that leap/chest bump thing as they part. That seems to be a bit dependent on how often they see each other or the expected length of time before they see each other again, though.

    I agree, it’s confusing. I guess I should just say that as a woman, you’d never be wrong offering your hand in a social setting, unless perhaps it was someones home. That just seems…yeah – I don’t think I’ve ever seen that.

    • Unni- I totally get you. I normally greet friends with a kiss or a hug down here and just a hug elsewhere. Greetings are a study in and of themselves, don’t you think?

      Yesterday, I played a wedding and I had never met the harpist before so I stuck my hand out to greet her (because she looked white and I didn’t want to assume she would kiss cheeks) and she completely ignored me! Then when the violinist arrived she greeted her with a kiss. I was totally shocked. But then when I left, she kissed my cheek. It was very bizarre. When the male violinist showed up (he’s white from New England), he waved at me awkwardly. But I think that was because he thought I was cute. He kept trying to hit on me the entire gig….

  4. I spoke with a Hispanic friend of mine about this very subject today over tea. She has the same troubles that we do. We either are told we don’t know how to greet properly, or end up doing the AGS. I think I have even that down to an art.

    • Thankfully now I’m in a country where I know that they expect the hug/kiss routine since right now I’m living in Mexico^^ In three and a half years I’ve only had to go through the AGS when I’m back in the US

  5. Oh gosh this was funny^^ and so true!

    I’ve had to deal with the AGS my whole life. Seriously. I’m Californian raised by Mexican American parents, so I’ve always done the hug/kiss routine with my family and parent’s friends, however once outside of the house you never know what type of greeting the person you meet prefers.

    Growing up I usually did the hug/kiss instinctively and got the back-away stance more times than I can count. Then there are times when I just give out a handshake and am literally pulled into the hug/kiss routine, with a “what’s wrong with you girl? don’t you know how to greet properly?” It’s so frustrating not knowing!

    This is why I hate greeting new people sometimes, because I just hate not knowing what’s acceptable to them and I abhor the awkward turtle’s presence in the beginning of a new acquaintance.

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