America Goes Left–negotiating the Italian kiss kiss

Watch out. You’re an American in Italy, and you’re about to execute the ceremonial cheek kiss. How many kisses, one or two? That problem will take care of itself. The peril is in the prelude.

In the US, at the onset of a hug (or a cheek kiss—if we did that), we tend to go left. We lean forward and veer gently to the left, extend arms, and embrace. In Italy, they go right. 

Imagine that you are a Buick, a big American car amongst go-cart-size italian cars on a city street in Italy.  You approach an intersection. Ahead of you, coming toward you into the intersection, a Fiat. The light is red. You both stop, face to face across from each other. When the light turns green and it’s time to move, you press on the gas and execute a left turn. That’s what we do in the US. We go left and merge. But you’re in Italy, where the Fiat goes right. 

There are two awkward outcomes: a head-on collision, a kiss on the lips (or more likely a face smash), or, both cars complete their turns with an inevitable fender-bender. You both feel foolish. But there’s no doubt about who’s at fault. 

American, turn right.

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