If you’ve been following Japan-related news over the last decade, you’ll know an interesting phenomenon is taking place there: a lot of young folks are just not getting into relationships. Anti-dating might be a little extreme in Japan, but it seems the single trend is becoming widespread all over the developed world. A recent Pew report states that in the U.S., the number of under 25s that have never been married is at its highest level since we started recording such statistics. It seems we are still kissing, though, with the UK and U.S. media citing reports that say at about the age of 15 more than 70 percent of teens have their first kiss. Nonetheless, an American Anthropologist study tells us that only 46 percent of cultures kiss romantically. How we do it is also different, and that’s what we’ll explore today in this episode of the Infographics Show, How Is Kissing Different Around the World.
Kissing can mean a number of things, such as an expression of faith when kissing a religious object, a greeting, or even an act of showing respect. Today we are going to focus more on the romantic and affectionate type of kissing. This type of kissing has been around for some time, with anthropologists claiming that it either evolved from kiss feeding – mothers passing food to babies with their mouths – and other academics stating that the act is entirely instinctual – meaning it’s just what happens naturally when passions run high. Anthropologists have unearthed instances of romantic kissing in ancient Sumerian and Egyptian poetry, and historians agree that the Romans were quite fond of the act. Historians also agree that after the fall of the Roman Empire, kissing went out of fashion, only for literature to bring it back again. Who could forget the sweet lines of Romeo talking to Juliet in Shakespeare’s Italy-based play: “My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand. To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.”
This brings us to what many western cultures believe to be the ultimate romantic kiss, something we call the French kiss. Such a kiss is a step-up from the peck, the kiss with pursed lips. In the French kiss the mouth opens and tongues touch. Also known as a deep kiss, it was actually first called a Florentine kiss. Here we can give the Italians some credit again for their introduction of this intimate act. Some researchers say it was only until American and British troops fought in France in the early part of the 20th century that it was popularized in those nations. Apparently the Brits and the Americans were very impressed with this act of passion, and soon the amorous tête-à-tête could be seen on the silver screens all around the world.
As we said earlier, many cultures don’t have romantic kissing. A recent study of 168 cultures revealed that only 77 of them did indeed kiss the passionate way. At the same time, some cultures have their traditional methods of kissing which are being replaced as a younger generation grows up in a more globalized environment.
Such is the case in Thailand, a country where the record for the longest romantic kiss was performed. Guinness World Records reports that that kiss lasted 58 hours, 35 minutes and 58 seconds. The couple beat 8 other couples in the kissing contest, including a rather energetic couple in their 70s. What’s strange though about Thailand being the home of the longest kiss, is that French kissing is relatively new in the country and still sometimes left out of relationships. Reading expatriate forums in Thailand you can see that the sniff kiss confuses quite a lot of foreigners in the country. “My wife does this to me quite a lot and only in private,” wrote one expat. But what is it? Apparently the intimate gesture requires that you rest your closed lips on another person’s cheek and with your nose also touching the cheek take in a good sniff. One expat remarks that the kiss is “really beautiful…much more delicate than the usual kiss.” He also said he took it back to Europe and it worked a charm with the women there.
Sniff kissing, or cheek kissing, is common in many Asian cultures. In fact, in 1897, anthropologist Paul d’Enjoy remarked that kissing lip-to-lip in some Asian cultures he studied was even seen as a form of cannibalism.
A form of kissing you’ve probably come across but perhaps not practiced in a relationship is what western cultures call the Eskimo kiss. This is an Inuit traditional act of warmth in which two people lightly press their noses together. It was given the name Eskimo kiss after Arctic explorers noticed Inuit people rubbing their noses together. Such an expression of warmth though is also practiced in the New Zealand Māori culture, as well as in parts of Bengal and Timor. It is thought to have developed in the Inuit culture since all your body is covered up to keep warm, the end of the nose is about the only place you can use to kiss. The similar Māori kiss is known as the Hongi. This consists of not only touching noses but also foreheads. The Hongi is traditionally practiced as a greeting and a sign of respect, but can also be very intimate when performed by people who are close. When you are doing the hongi you are actually sharing your soul with another person.
According to various media, one country that has an exceptional kissing culture is Brazil. One blogger calls the country’s traditional deep kiss, the beijo, “a full-on facial and salival assault”. The writer describes it as a kind of intense French kiss in which more fluids are shared than usual. This could be an exaggeration, though, but what most commentators of Brazilian culture agree on is that Brazil is a kissing culture. You might be expected to kiss when you greet in Brazil, although there seems to be a system. One blogger writes that in Rio de Janeiro people kiss both cheeks while in São Paulo they just kiss one cheek.
Cheek kissing, or air-kissing the cheek, is common in many parts of the world, although not always do men do it to other men as a greeting. In the Arab world you’ll find that men kissing men as a greeting is very normal. Try that in the UK and you might create an awkward moment, although just across the English Channel in France men kissing men is quite ordinary. In Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro it is also quite common for men to kiss other men as a greeting, but again, do that in the United States and the recipient of the kiss may feel a threshold has been crossed.
As you’ll already know from our other shows, such up-close affection is frowned upon in many parts of Asia, although find yourself at a hi-society party and things can soon change.
In fact, in some Asian cultures there was no word for kissing until recently, such as in Japan where the English word is used: Kissu. In China if you were to kiss someone in public you would certainly cause a lot of distress. For this reason web forums are full of people asking if the Chinese actually kiss at all. Do they do it? Of course they do, although you should remember that this intimate act is reserved for private areas and only after you’ve formed a decent bond. In India it was reported that in 2014 conservative folks marched in the streets as a protest against kissing. But India is the home of the Kama Sutra and ancient poems in Hindu texts describing the art of kissing. The India Times asked in one article how some people in India could be outraged over an act it practically invented. Therefore, kiss away in India, but be aware some people might not like it.
In some cultures, there is just no such thing as kissing. This includes sub-Saharan Africa, New Guinea, and Amazonian foragers, regions where anthropologists are yet to see an instance of a romantic kiss. In fact, many hunter-gatherer or nomadic cultures such as African tribes and Asian hill tribes do not have kissing. They might have ways to show affection, though. According to one report the Oceanic kiss involves no touching at all, but passing your open mouth in front of someone else’s open mouth. Some cultures actually view the act of procreation as merely work one must endure to keep the population healthy, so passion is not so much the norm. You just do the job at hand.
So, what is the kissing culture like in your country? Are there ways to kiss that we haven’t mentioned. Let us know in the comments!