If you visit the Netherlands, people will probably try to kiss you. If not, you will certainly observe a lot of kissing. This might seem a little flamboyant and forward for a generally stoic society until you understand that it's an integral aspect of the Dutch social dynamic.
Before you get too excited/freaked out I'll try to explain my understanding. First of all, (hopefully) random strangers are not going to approach you from out of the shadows and attempt to lock lips. This kissing I'm talking about is a customary interaction at greetings and departures - three kisses to be precise.
The act is logistically simple: kiss the left cheek, kiss the right cheek, kiss the left cheek, maybe give a small arm squeeze or hug and say hello or goodbye. Ladies and ladies kiss, men and ladies kiss but men and men generally just shake hands. Easy-peasy, right?
Not always. At least in my book. You see, it's not the ritual kissing in and of its self that I find awkward. Greeting a close friend or family member with a kiss is sweet and affectionate. It's the in-betweeners that are slightly anxiety-inducing. It's the hypothetical uncle-in-law you just met that day, it's time to leave...you don't want to seem rude, or too forward...you're saying your good-byes, kissing everyone, WHAT DO YOU DO?
At one family gathering, I was in this exact situation with the mother of my brother-in-law. I went in for a kiss and she flinched back. Rejected. Without hesitation, Oma rectified the situation by abruptly cradling my cheeks and planting three very long and dramatic kisses on my face. The whole roomed watched in confusion. I held in belly laughs.
The ritual kissing here reminds of an intensified version of hugging in the US - very pleasant and sweet with your inner-circle, confusing and awkward when you're out of your element.
Do you have any funny or embarrassing stories surrounding new (or your own) cultural rituals? I'd love to hear.