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Twenty(something) Questions: The unavoidable kiss

Joey Albanese

Joey Albanese

Everyone has that aunt in their extended family who loves to kiss everyone on the mouth. And it's not just a regular kiss – it’s big, it’s wet and it feels like it lasts an eternity.

No matter what you do, you can’t escape it. You can try to turn your head at the last second, but she knows better; sometimes she’ll even hold your head and force you to feel the whiskers on her face and the metallic pink lipstick that she’s wearing.

I come from one of those really big Italian families whose gatherings last way longer than they should. Saying hello to everyone takes at least an hour and goodbyes probably take about two, especially after all of the wine.

It’s understood that when you greet a family member, you kiss him or her on the cheek. This is something that I learned at a very young age. Well, I learned that I needed to stand still so that someone else could kiss me. As a naïve boy who found the tradition kind of annoying, I don’t think I was a teenager until I realized that turning your cheek perpendicular to someone else’s face is somewhat obnoxious and that the greeting is intended to be reciprocal.

Regardless, the tradition has always been a kiss on the cheek. Not on the lips, not on the elbow – on the cheek. So when someone greets me with a kiss on the lips, it catches me off guard. And honestly, it makes me feel a little uncomfortable.

I think it’s partly a generational thing, sometimes a cultural thing, and I’m learning now it’s sort of a New Orleans thing. It happens a lot down here. The other day I greeted someone at the bar with a friendly peck, and a woman a couple stools down from me yelled, “ Are you giving out kisses? I want one! It’s NOLA!”

Now, this could have been one of those, “this is why I love living here” moments, because that sure as hell wouldn’t happen in New York. But, no, no, it was definitely not one of those moments. All I could think about was how the last thing I wanted to do was kiss this stranger on the mouth, yet I had no choice but to pucker up. I mean, how do you say no to that? You can’t. You really just can’t.

I want to be fine with it. I really do. I’m a free spirit. I’m even a very “touchy” person. By all means, I love showing affection through touch and spreading the love. I think the world would be a better place if we were all a little better about showing our compassion for others.

Social scientists are even suggesting that direct human contact makes us more trusting and empathetic due to the hormone oxytocin that is released. I love it. I’m very supportive. I think people up north need to start touching one another more. But for me, there’s a line, and this is crossing it. I’m all about sharing the love, just not the saliva.

It’s just so personal to me. I can’t help but feel like I’m being taken advantage of. Maybe I’m the one who needs to get over my paranoia of catching cooties from strangers. I’m working on it. But in the mean time, I just stick out my lips, close my eyes and hope that I can find a moment when no one is watching to wipe my mouth off.

So, next time, if you say hello and I slip you the perpendicular cheek at the last second, please don’t take it personally. It isn’t you; it’s me.

Joey Albanese writes about the twenty-something generation in New Orleans for NolaVie. Send him any questions or tell him the answers at [email protected]