You need a light cheek-to-cheek brush and an almost imperceptible kissing sound
Photo: Mike Zenari
Greeting people in Luxembourg is a minefield. Is a handshake enough? Or should I kiss, and if so, how many kisses? And which cheek to start with? And what do I actually do with my face during all of this? Can’t I just nod hello? Please?
Whether you’ve lived in Luxembourg all your life or just arrived, none of us know the rules for what we should do when we greet friends and acquaintances. Meeting someone in a social situation for the first time or in a professional situation is straightforward.
Whether you’re a woman or a man greeting a woman or a man, a firm (not too limp, nor too powerful please!) handshake is the way. But when you’ve met that person a few times in a social situation, how does your physical relationship develop from there?
North vs south
In and around the capital and in the south of the country, expect to be offered cheeks to kiss if a woman is involved. But not always. On the whole, men stick to handshakes. However, the more you progress northwards, eastwards or westwards, the tendency is not to kiss.
“When I was younger, we never used to greet each other with kisses, but now, I find this is pretty common,” said Albert, a 60-something long-term Luxembourger resident of the capital. “Only with family members and not always!” said Jeanette, a 39-year-old Luxembourger from Colmar-Berg, a more northerly town. “We will kiss at bigger family gatherings, but just randomly meeting somebody from my family? No. Personally, I consider this a Luxembourg City thing.” She confirmed that her colleague from the west of the country has a similar impression.
Could it be that the south’s proximity to France and history of Italian immigration brought this practice to the area? Yet why the kiss greeting should have become the norm in the capital is less clear. Maybe the mindset of the migrants who have settled there is relatively open and doing something “foreign” just seems the right thing to do.
0, 1, 2, or 3
Because another oddity is why three kisses are deployed. Just across the southern border in the Moselle or Meurthe-et-Moselle departments (where most cross-border workers come from), two is the norm. However, in Meuse, just to the west, three is more common. Yet on the other hand, in the French-speaking part of Belgium, you only get one, while in Germany none at all.
Better news is that there is no confusion about which cheek to go for first: the right one. But a further rule is that you do not actually kiss the cheek (or ear if you’ve gone in too far by accident). You need a light cheek-to-cheek brush and an almost imperceptible kissing sound. Try to avoid ostentatious “air kisses” with faces several centimetres apart.
Once you’ve negotiated all that, then there’s the question of how to react when meeting a large group. In France, if you are meeting 20 friends or acquaintances, you go around each handshaking or “mwah mwahing”. We are spared this in Luxembourg. Once the group gets above about half a dozen, a few nods should suffice. Or else just forget all of the above and nod and smile sheepishly. People understand.