The following is an excerpt from a draft of Vagabonding with Kids: Spain. In short, don’t do what I do.
When it was time for us to meet up with our home exchange partners, we walked a block to what I assumed was the center of town. My contact was a woman named Aintzane who, with her husband and three sons, would later spend their portion of the exchange at our place in Boise.
When Aintzane and her husband showed up, easily identifying the six lost-looking Americans standing on the sidewalk, she and her husband immediately set about kissing everyone on both cheeks.
This is a custom I fail at.
I’m never sure if we’re actually kissing cheeks or air or if one of us is supposed to kiss and the other is just supposed to offer the cheek. Because I’m not really good at doing both at the same time.
I also harbor a fear of ending up with an unwanted earlobe in my mouth.
A few years ago, while saying goodbye to the proprietor of a restaurant we love in Mexico, the man leaned in for a hug.
Even this, I believe, was not his preference, but my mother-in-law was there, and she feels the need to touch everyone, all the time. She will hug you whether you want her to or not.
We said our goodbyes after my mother-in-law set the hug precedent. And when I leaned in to hug the proprietor, I got the impression that we were doing the kiss-on-the-cheek thing.
Not only was this not the plan, but I also stumbled, which screwed up my aim. I gasped as I stumbled, which forced my mouth open, and for a brief moment, I felt the man’s earlobe in my mouth.
He stepped back and looked at me with both confusion and accusation, and I could do nothing but accept the fact that for the rest of our lives, this man and I will unfortunately associate each other with that singular moment.