El beso or the kiss, is one of the most difficult Argentine customs for the straight laced English.
I find as the years go by men more often kiss women acquaintances goodbye, but rarely hello and never ever other men. Is this a result of a society that has repressed homosexuality for so long, or perhaps the macho society that has for so many centuries conquered the world.
Whatever the reason, contact between men has been frowned apon to the point that when we shake hands with someone we have known for years or even a relative, we stand at least eighteen inches apart.
My first experience of El Beso was when I met my Argentine dance teacher Juan. We had been introduced, organised classes for the next two weeks, and chatted for about an hour, when it was time to go he stood up and moved towards me, I of course stuck my hand out and shook his. I could see a look of suprise on his face.
When he had left Luba explained to me about the kiss, I never kissed my parents let alone strangers.
It took some time for me to get over my reserve and actually kiss another man, now I do it all the time, it just seems natural and in no way sexual. I even kiss men at home although I must admit it is more for the shock effect.
Is contact such a bad thing? When I dance as a follower I can feel that the men are uncomfortable being so close to a man, and in the most part are glad to get away. Next time you shake hands grab the guy with whom you are exchanging greetings and give him a slap on the back. I guarantee that after the suprise he will smile. From the back slapping it is only a small step to a full hug and your heads are side by side. Even if you cannot bring youself to actually kiss, this embrace would be enough for most of our Latin friends.
We are naturally tactile animals and our fear of sexuality and repressed upbringing drives away this desire to touch. If it all sounds just a bit gay, then look at it this way. Since I have learned to kiss men I find contact with women much easier and think nothing of taking a women into a full embrace on our first meeting. I see couples dancing and you could get another couple between them, not strangers, old married couples. I dance with their wives and take them in a full close embrace, although at first uncomfortable they soon learn to like it. Kissing is just a natural extension to the embrace.
The world will be a better place, and we will all be a lot happier when we can all just kiss and hug. Forget Fathers day, and Mothers day giving an insicere present and a handshake Let’s have a national Hug and Kiss day. Who knows you may like it.