The Guide to the ultimate Arab Greeting: Cheek kissing

Greeting a person in the Arab world might as well be the trickiest thing in our culture. Is it enough to just shake hands? How many cheek kisses is this person expecting anyway? Is it one per cheek or three per cheek? Is he going to embarrass you and put his hand on his chest? Since they’re too far, isn’t a wave just enough? Is it necessary to stand up? What about walking her to the door?

Really. Arab greetings etiquette is just a pain in the ass. There’s afterall always that really high probability of a lip-lock, if your calculations are just a few seconds or centimeters off.

So if you’re as socially inept as I can be, or if you’re planning on visiting Amman, or if you’re a foreigner living in Amman, this little guide might help:

1. The double-kiss on the cheek is mandatory 96% of the time. Yes, some people consider you rude if for not swapping grease and/or slime.

2. When you arrive, you kiss everybody hello, starting with the person nearest to you and going in a circle. When you leave, you kiss everybody goodbye.

3. If you happen to be seated when someone walks in, you stand and wait for the greeting around 30 seconds before the person reaches you.

4. Women kiss women. Women kiss men. Men kiss men. Sorry guys, but you cannot avoid the man kiss.

5. But don’t kiss the other gender unless you are really good friends, really close family, or if you’re totally sure the other person won’t mind.

6. Do not, and I repeat, do not, touch anyone’s cheek with your lips. It’s really just for show, your lips should actually just kiss the air and make the popping sound.

7. Unless you want to get caught in a very uncomfortable lip-lock, kiss the right cheek first.

8. Often, the kissing greeting is compulsory for even people you just met. If you feel reserved about kissing them during the first handshake, you probably should when you’re about to depart.

9. If you want to show that the greeting is particularly heart-felt, lay your palm on the person shoulder as you greet.

33 thoughts on “The Guide to the ultimate Arab Greeting: Cheek kissing”

  1. haha, fantastic.
    I have often been confused – but I am learning – and now it is only once in a while that I have doubts.

    For example at a recent wedding – when we came out of the church and the entire family lined up outside to recieve greetings from the guests. Around 50 people…(I had to whisper to my boyfriend if I was supposed to kiss ALL of them :-D luckily he said that a handshake and “Mabrouk” would be enough)

  2. Thanks for the great post! As a Canadian (not French – those guys know how to kiss) living in Amman, I am constantly stressing about the politics of kissing. Who to kiss, who not to kiss…

    But then there is also the tricky third kiss! It seems that if you are well liked, you have to prepare for a kiss on each cheek and then a third kiss on the same side as the last kiss.

    This gets a little tricky, because different places (such as Iraq) have different customs for the third kiss: sometimes on the same cheek – other times on the opposite cheek. It’s hard to gracefully cope while avoiding the dreaded lip lock!

  3. You neglected the difference in the Palestinian/Jordanian variation.

    In Palestine, you kiss on the cheeks 3 times alternating between the two cheeks, right-left-right.

    In Jordan, you start with one kiss on the right cheek then 3 kisses on the left cheek. But these 3 kisses have to be separated by 1 second pauses. Sometimes people move their faces 1-2 cm away in that pause then move back in. To show more love and respect for the person, people sometimes exagurate the pause separation and the dive. If you move your head 5-7 cm apart in these pauses, that signifies more respect :-D

    I have to tell you, that really confused me when I cam to Jordan for a couple of months. I had to get used to the new “kiss custom” :-D

    PS: I don’t think that you have to kiss people on the way in and out … one way is usually enough in my experience :-D .. and yes somebody should document these things for real :-D

  4. :) but how many times should we kiss? Egyptians are usually one kiss on each cheek, Lebanese are a total of 3 kisses they copy the french, and Saudis are just an unstoppalbe number of kisses on both cheeks. That’s what I’ve noticed…

  5. I love it LOL!! So true.. How about the Saudi greeeting? They kiss every cheek 20 times, you never know when to stop :D

  6. Actually here in the gulf, they (guys) don’t do cheek kisses, (forget the girls, they’re too covered up and ignored in this sad society).. here.. they go hardcore, and do the nose touch thing..

    the logic (or lack there of) comes from the past where they come close and exchange breaths.. (from the nose thank God and not the mouth..)

    Plus.. whatever happened to just high-fives?! They rock.

  7. haha :D

    the kissing guide! :D

    and lol@za3tar too!

    i think the kissing on the way out part is particular for women.

    Also, poor foreigners sometimes they put me in awkward monents when i am introduced to a nice canadian for example and he wants to show he fits in well already and he jumps to kiss me and i am like: woo hoo hoo hold your horses man, haha thats inside my head only of course, i naturally shower them back with kisses out of respect!

    haha Arabs are crazy indeed!

  8. heheehe Roba,this is so funny and true,I particularly liked number 6 ;) as abitmutch said there is the tricky 3rd kiss too,I hate it! cz some people expect it and others don’t,and either you embarrass the person or they embarrass you!

    Za3tr’s comment is hilarious with the pauses thing, and I think kissing on the way out depends on how close you are to the people around you,and mostly it’s our thing as ladies

  9. heheehe Roba,this is so funny and true,I particularly liked number 6 ;) as abitmutch said there is the tricky 3rd kiss too,I hate it! cz some people expect it and others don’t,and either you embarrass the person or they embarrass you!

    Za3tr’s comment is hilarious with the pauses thing, and I think kissing on the way out depends on how close you are to the people around you,and mostly it’s our thing as ladies
    P.S. – Sorry, forgot to tell you great post!

  10. i just wish that people here would get over an over-elaborate greeting and just say hello from afar.

  11. Poor R has a hard time with my family! Some kiss twice, some do the threes (he just gets lost in those!) and then the veiled ones pull away when he goes near them! He told me he’s not saying hello to any Arabs anymore!

  12. Ive bn in Jordan for olmost a year now, nd still havnt mastered the kiss! i’m so confused bout how many times to.. nd on wich cheek? nd talk bout the kiss sound….lost cause!

  13. Nice post, I found it very helpful as I travel to Egypt a couple of times a year. I often wondered the purpose of the greeting kiss, but now I know.

    Many Thanks.

  14. yeah i totally get how this can be embarrassing. my boyfriend is muslim and this is how they greet but i never greeted his dad like this and i finally greeted him like this and it was weird.. i didnt know if i should have and if i embarrassed myself… now did i set myself up? everytime i go there must i greet him like this again?

  15. Its ok for me to kiss girl friends since they are close to me and they clean and they dont sweat :S and I try to handshake only and avoid kissing the rest.
    engaging ceremony is HELL, where the groom kisses like 200 person in a row while sweating and spreading germs and infections from person to another :S

  16. Thank you for this article. I recently visited Lebanon, and have a feeling I may have appeared rude, as I stuck to a very British handshake! When I return, I may risk the three kisses, but I’d like to ask – is the kiss as part of a hug? and, is it THEIR right cheek I aim for first, or the one on MY right? :)

  17. this is so true. I am a Brit abroad, when I first started working in Saudi I was horrified at the onslaught of kisses, one of the main reasons I grew a beard. after 5 years of dodging some dubious physical contacts (for the love of God shake my hand) I moved to Abu Dhabi. 3 kisses progresses to a nose bump with a hand on the shoulder, the uninitiated would think is was a wrestling match. Having said all that it is way more friendlier than the limp handshake and avoidance of eye contact at an average UK meeting

  18. In my experience- only familiar men and visibly married women (ie their husband is there, present) have cheek-brushed right-left-right. The unmarried girls only air-kiss or cheek-brush the females. But some married or older women do not or even shake hands (very devout). Usually the younger men do a 5cm gap RLR. A lot of the younger ones are embarrassed and just shake hands. Or to show how Westernised they are (a lot of pride in being educated in UK or USA). This has been my experience dealing with officials, friends, company personnel, senior personnel in private and commercial fields.

  19. If ur a guy DON’T go in and kiss the lady you are greeting unless when you are shaking hands she pulls you in towards her face.

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