Here in the Canary Islands, it is tradition to greet one another with a kiss on each cheek. When you see a friend or acquaintance, they offer you their cheek and you put your cheek next to theirs, then turn to the other side and do the same, making a slight kissing motion, but it really isn't a true kiss. The Spaniards do this as a way of saying hello, and it is probably just as much a sign of courtesy and respect just like the American handshake. Failure to do so would be an insult to some.
In our church, only the women greet one another with the traditional kissing ritual (although in many circles it is common for men to greet ladies with the kiss as well). Honestly, I would feel very uncomfortable greeting a man that wasn't my husband in this way. It doesn't come natural for me to even remember that the women are expecting me to greet them this way, but fortunately they take the initiative so it serves as a reminder for me. However, sometimes during the rush of greeting one another and making sure everything is set up and taken down properly for our Sunday services, I often forget to make it around to everyone to "kiss" them goodbye.
This past Sunday, I must have had my mind on something else, and when Doug shook a woman's hand goodbye, without thinking I pulled my hand out to shake her hand as well. She took a step back, and obviously offended, she asked me if I was afraid of catching the H1N1 Virus (called Gripe A here). I had to stop and think for a minute, asking myself, "What is she talking about?"
Then I realized, there have been a lot of public health commercials on TV and in the newspapers urging people to cut down on close contact, including the custom of greeting one another with a kiss. I had to explain how in our culture it wasn't customary to kiss one another, and how I sometimes forget. Just another example how sometimes you can offend someone by not respecting their culture, no matter how innocent you think the matter. Not only do we have the extra challenge of speaking their language, but also the body language and signals we give without even saying a word!