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Kiss, kiss, kiss
I learned early on that you shouldn't automatically kiss every woman you meet—I don't think that lady in the tax office will ever recover from the shock. I haven't yet learned when a kissing-level relationship begins: the tax office lady refuses to return my calls so I haven't been able to complete the experiment. Once a kissing relationship has been established, there is still the problem of who makes the first advance at subsequent meetings. If I wait until she moves in for the kiss, I look unwilling and she is offended. If I move in for the kiss first, I get the body language wrong and look like I'm going for a full on snog—she screams, police are called, I have to go and sit in the corner for the rest of the evening.
The number of kisses is also a challenge. Polish people tell you it's always three, but they are lying—often it's only one. The single kiss might mean: "I don't really like you, but I have to do this anyway," or: "We are such good friends, we don't have to go through the formality of all three kisses." Polish people seem to know instinctively if it's going to be a single or a full set and break off at the appropriate moment. Lacking this instinct I go for the second in the sequence as my opponent is backing away and I end up flapping my lips in empty air or inadvertently sucking on the end of her nose.
Lip control is highly important. This becomes clear when you realise it is physically impossible for two people to kiss each other on the cheek simultaneously—the human head is just the wrong shape. In reality, one person is kissing flesh and the other is kissing air. If you're inexperienced, like me, you end up making loud lip-sucking noises in her ear when you get the air instead of the cheek. This rarely enhances your carefully constructed sophisticated image.
Kissing female friends is tricky, but at least it falls within the bounds of normal behaviour for English people. Men kissing each other is another matter. When you marry into a Polish family you discover the alarming truth that her male relatives might occasionally kiss you as well. Admittedly this is rare and only usually occurs after several bottles of vodka have been opened, but very fact that it could happen means you can never truly relax.
One of the greatest horrors of the communist era was not food shortages or summary executions, it was the widespread adoption among party apparatchiks of the Russian habit of men kissing on the lips. I've seen the photos of Brezhnev and Honecker going at it like a pair of dating teenagers. The practice was so widespread among Eastern Bloc dictators that Jaruzelski recently complained that Honecker was a lousy kisser. This is why I will never make it in Polish politics—I could never be sure the habit won't come back into fashion.
Every time I read your stories I laugh like hell - they remind me the situations from few years ago when my husband was going through the same things as you do. He lives in Poland for over 10 years now and he is used to most of the "strange-to-Englishman" things like men-to men kissing, having more than one pair of shoes etc... But I must say - iit wasn't easy at the beginning :)