In America, the standard procedure for greeting someone is a brief handshake accompanied by fleeting eye contact. Sometimes, if we are greeting someone close to us or someone we have not seen in a while, we brave the uncomfortable territory of close proximity and actually move in for a hug. Usually this is a measly side hug or perhaps a short full frontal hug, but it is rare to experience an enveloping, consuming bear hug from another American. We are terrified of affection. We even have a derogatory term for it. PDA. A public display of affection is a formidable offense. Appalling. Disgusting. “Get a room!” we shout.
In Argentina, these words are never uttered. (Or perhaps I just couldn’t understand them since they were in Spanish!)
The standard greeting in Argentina is a simultaneous hug and kiss on the cheek. That’s right, besos! And gender does not change this. Men kiss men. Women kiss women. Besos a todos (kisses to all)! Furthermore, they carry out this greeting every time they say hello or goodbye to ANYONE! When they get home from work, every member of the family is greeted this way. When they meet up with friends, every amigo is greeted this way. When they walk into a panaderia (bakery), the store clerks are greeted this way!
Furthermore, it is a common sight to see two people embracing. Men put their arms around other men. Teenage children embrace their mothers. Lovers swap spit. On the street, at the dinner table, on a park bench. Wherever.
And no one gawks or looks disgusted.
Argentines are just very affectionate and loving people. They realize that love should be expressed in a tangible way. Not just in flowery words scribbled inside a flimsy and overpriced Hallmark card, but in a true physical manner. Besos a todos!