Writer and broadcaster

Social kissing needs guidelines. Published in The Guardian.

If, this week, the Queen can tear herself away from looking at the latest picture taken to celebrate her golden jubilee – in which the photographer, Rankin, has made her look 20 years younger by virtue of some airbrushing – she has another dilemma on her hands. Should she kiss her son Charles during the golden jubilee celebrations next weekend? It’s the difference between being passive and active. Royal protocol dictates that while she may receive kisses in public, as she has done on occasion, she should not give them: she has never kissed the Prince of Wales publicly before.

Her courtiers are busy discussing this very thing. Queen Victoria kissed her son during her golden jubilee jollies, you see, and they are wondering if the time is not right for the present Queen to do the same. It is funny that a kiss, which should be about affection and spontaneity, is the subject of so much clinical discussion and, most likely, memos: should she kiss him and if so, exactly when and where. On the balcony at Buckingham Palace this weekend? At St Paul’s Cathedral next Tuesday? At the “Party at the Palace” on Monday? Left cheek? Right cheek? It will all be decided for her.

I say no, no, no, no, no, no, no. It’s not that I think a kiss between a mother and a son shouldn’t happen – my God, I’m Italian, and Italian mothers stop kissing their sons only long enough to hold them at arm’s length to see if they have been eating enough. It is just that I think far too much showy kissing goes on already and that is all this kiss would be for: show. Presumably Charles has been well smooched by his mother in private and knows that she cares for him, so this kiss would be for our benefit and would just encourage a whole load of people to think that show-kissing is OK. It is not.

Whatever happened to the hearty handshake? Just over the weekend I watched the contestants on Big Brother meet for the first time and hug and kiss each other. Where do you go from there? What do you do when you really start to like someone and want to show real affection? These days you meet people, have a bit of light conversation for a few hours and then you are expected to kiss them goodbye. I am often uncomfortable with this, and spend the last half hour of a social gathering in a state of mounting panic, wondering what will be expected of me when the time comes to part. A kiss on the cheek or a handshake? Ideally, unless I know someone really well, I would prefer a handshake but, these days, would that be seen as rude and aloof?

Equally, I hate the hypocrisy of kissing someone I hardly know and haven’t decided whether I really like or not yet. I don’t like having to use the gentle affection that a kiss should impart, just to say “nice to have met you, and goodbye”, which is what the shake of a hand once did perfectly well. It seems a waste.

Then there is the question of one kiss or two. My genes dictate the latter but I have been left seeming way too friendly if I do this, or it seems “very fashion” (fashion people always kiss twice – it gives them more time to check what label you’re wearing). And then, of course, there is the problem of – whether one kiss or two – which cheek to kiss first, to avoid the awkward hovering that invariably results in one’s face turning left, right, left, as if watching tennis, in an attempt to engage the correct combination of lip to cheek.

If we must do all this vacuous social kissing, can there at least be some guidelines? I do extend a rigid-arm handshake to those I really do not want to kiss – that way they cannot get too close. This is also what the Queen does if foreign royals get too frisky, as they sometimes do. Prince Henrik of Denmark once went to kiss the Queen’s face (he is French and they kiss three or five times, even more of a minefield), as indeed his wife, Queen Margrethe, is allowed to. He, however, is not and Queen Elizabeth II locked her arm out, offering her hand to be kissed instead.

A kiss is the ultimate social touch and I don’t think its currency should be diluted by prolificacy. Anyway, here is something else for her to consider: sibling rivalry. If she starts kissing Charles in public, where will it end? She will have to kiss the rest of them, and they are an ugly bunch. But then a mother’s love…

First published in The Guardian.