INDIA NEEDS HELP: When It Comes to Kissing and Hugging, Is There a Universal Way to Do it Right?!

With hugging, how tight do I hold on? How long before I let go? Who lets go first? Do I hug with both arms or is just one OK?

Apr 11, 2013 at 4:00pm | Leave a comment

Physically embracing others is such a tedious exchange for me. I always find that I either come across slightly rude and half-assed, or a little awkward when I accidentally linger a little too long. Plus, in completely casual social situations, I never know when it’s appropriate to hug vs. kiss vs. shake hands, nor when it’s perfectly fine to just wave or nod or wink. It’s kind of driving me nuts.

Hugged up with my gal pal Mellie. But only because we're friends!

The whole issue I have with embracing others is totally amplified when I’m living overseas; as an American in England, I cringe inside when complete strangers come in for a cheek kiss, especially when I realize they’re hell-bent on smooching both sides of my face. (I understand that this is a cultural custom, but I like my foundation to sit pretty and stay flawless throughout the entire day, thankyouverymuch.) 
In an effort to minimize my own awkwardness, lately I’ve taken to automatically offering my hand when people come in, as I know they're probably wanting to greet me with a hug or kiss. And as expected, most Londoners feel a tad bit rebuffed by it. But what the fuck else am I supposed to do?! Especially since I already know I’m not good at physically welcoming people.
Le sigh. I can’t be the only one who is genuinely confused by all of this. If you have it down pat, would you mind helping out?
With shaking hands, how firm should I be? And for how long? Who should let go first? Should I cup their hand in my hands? When is it OK to offer a handshake?
With hugging, how tight do I hold on? How long before I let go? Who lets go first? Do I hug with both arms or is just one OK? When is it OK to back-pat and rock back-and-forth? Can I just do that guy thing, where they clasp each other’s hands and bump shoulders?
With kissing, who kisses whom? Should my lips actually touch their cheeks (ew!), or are air kisses A-OK? (And if were just doing air kisses, should I bother actually going in for a faux kiss in the first place?) When is it OK to kiss one cheek? Should I start kissing both?
This is precisely why I vote for hi-fives and ass smacks being warmly welcomed into the appropriate greetings fold. Much less confusing, am I right?
Feel free to tweet with me at @IndiaJewelJax. (That's always socially acceptable in my book.)