Start cheek kissing on the left/right side
Cheek kissing is a very discussed topic in each site like this, because it is quite different depending on the country (number of kisses (especially), when to cheek kissing, men/women...) and it is a thing a foreigner will do even in a short stay. There is a lot of information on the internet about each country culture respect of it, like this map of France.
I didn't ever think about which side should be kissed first, until I moved to (southern) Italy and I had a few of embarrassing situations because here they start kissing left cheek, i.e. moving the head to the right. It is even more embarrassing when men also cheek-kiss here. Then I realized in Spain we always start kissing right check.
But I didn't find information (regarding a few sentences on Wikipedia) about this matter. Is it any cheek-kissing-depending-on-countries collection including it? Maybe it is more stablished in countries with an odd number of kisses?
I am French and I never thought of which cheek should be first kissed! I don't think there is a definite rule. The protocol I identified is:
- first protagonist tends his or her cheek (left or right)
- second protagonist adapts and tends the same cheek.
- if it fails, both smile or laugh and the procedure starts again
As for the number of kisses, when people don't know each other's habit:
- one protagonist thinks it's enough and starts to stop the game
- the other one goes on playing
- both smile saying something about regional differences
- then they agree on either the short or long protocol
it sounds very analytical, almost robotic, but this is the exact process indeed. I can tell that when you have half your family giving 2 kisses, the other half 3, you smile a lot when you visit them :)
Cheek kissing - Wikipedia and How to air kiss - Wikihow gives conventions about kissing in diffrent countries, precising it's often the right cheek first.
("Air" kiss because your lips don't actually go on the cheek, it's more cheek-on-cheek and you make the noise with your lips.)
Only for France, combiendebises.com gives stats for each department about the number of kisses, and which cheek to give first (droite = right, gauche = left).
One can see that it's more often the left cheek in the south and the right one in the north.
(If you click on a department they ask you for the kiss count, which cheek goes first, your gender and which gender you kiss when you don't know the person.)
(There is also combiendebises.free.fr only for the number of kisses, but more voters.)
I talked about Wiki article on the question, it only appears information (of which cheek should be kissed first) of a few countries. Wikihow is not completely right information when saying Italy is right cheek first (maybe in the north). But, French website is amazing! And French culture too complicated. Thank you!
In the countries of the Levant (especially Lebanon, Syria, Jordan), cheek kissing is quite common. Depending on the situation, it might not be appropriate to cheek-kiss a member of the opposite sex.
However, in some areas such as the coastal part of Syria and most of Lebanon, or in case you're close friends or relatives, it's also common to cheek-kiss a member of the opposite sex.
The Lebanese cheek-kiss is performed by touching the cheeks and kissing the air. Starting with the left cheek, the right cheek, and ending with the left cheek, totaling 3 kisses.
The Syrian cheek-kiss starts on the right side, then the left side, in the last kiss that ends on the right cheek, a single more emphasized air-kiss or a double air-kiss is performed.
Update: Answering the question in your comment is not as easy to answer as one would think. As you probably have noticed in my answer, cheek kissing is common in places that were under the French mandate. In Lebanon the kissing starts on the left side. In Syria, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, the kissing starts on the right side.
Just keep in mind that the cheek-kissing isn't very deep in the Arab culture, so most people won't be offended if you start on the wrong cheek, you can consider it an ice breaker.
@HaLaBi Unfortunately, I don't have enough information about other Arab countries when it comes to cheek kissing. Feel free do edit the answer and include the ones you know.
@Adnan Thank you for the information, anyway I was focused just in which cheek starts. Is it left-cheek first in all Middle East countries? (also for @HaLaBi)
In the Netherlands, it's exactly 3 kisses, starting with the right cheek. Not between men.
As a man, it's absolutely not done to cheek kiss a woman who'd rather not, so you take a tiny bit of initiative and then see if the movement is continued, otherwise just shake hands. When in doubt, just shaking hands is always fine as well.
In Kuwait, Saudi Arabia (probably also Bahrain):
Close friends? left, right, left - this is the most common, air kiss.
Informal colleague? left only (of the person being kissed) along with a handshake. So you shake hands and give an air kiss on the left.
For close family relatives, air kisses between sexes is allowed; but its rare.
For elders (for example, your grandmother or grandfather, or the grandfather of your close friend), on their forehead, and its a kiss.
For elders, but you do not have the protocol to kiss on the cheek or the forehead, you kiss on their right shoulder. This is usually done when meeting someone of extreme prominence (like the Emir) and only by other Arabs, never by foreigners (who just shake hands).
For Catholics it is usually two kisses. Starting on left. So left then right. For Orthodox it's three kisses starting on right. So right, left, right. But kissing is always only for those who know you and who you know. Either close family or close friends. Anything other will likely be very offensive and intrusive. So don't just go around kissing people unless it's a joke and they know it's a joke. You might get yourself in trouble you don't want to be in. Otherwise people are pretty easy going for the most part. Obviously some are conceded assholes. So just use your best judgment.
@pnuts cheek kissing means that you kiss a cheek of somebody. And when you're kissing left cheek, your left cheek also is being kissed. What's your question?
@pnuts I'm thinking you are trolling. Both people select left from their point of view, and yes, these cheeks are "right" from the other participant.
I know many catholics who do 4. You should specify which area you think your rule is valid in.