Osculation and Me

Professor Joe Goldblatt

I like kissing. The clinical dictionary definition of kissing is osculation. One definition of osculation is the act of caressing with the lips (or an instance thereof) synonyms: buss, kiss. types: smack, smooch. an enthusiastic kiss. However, the formal British definition of the same act is to osculate. / (ˈɒskjʊˌleɪt) / verb. usually jocular to kiss. (intr) (of an organism or group of organisms) to be intermediate between two taxonomic groups.

Within these two different definitions, one may discover why I found it odd when I relocated to Scotland and suddenly so many people wished to kiss me.

From earliest childhood, I remember fondly the thousands of kisses and warm hugs from my parents, aunts, uncles and others. During adulthood I have always and often kissed my wife, two sons, their wives, and two grandsons. I also sometimes innocently have startled close friends with a kiss upon greeting them, especially after a long absence. However, I realise that not everyone will have had this same opportunity or experience and in some cases this type of affection is also not welcomed. In a respectful nod to contemporary political correctness, I now ask strangers for permission to offer them a kiss prior to puckering up.

One family member told me that upon meeting our aunt and uncle and cousins he was suddenly kissing a room full of strangers. When he left to run an errand with his wife, he nervously asked her “When we return, will I have to kiss everyone all over again?”

Perhaps this is why when I read about the recent controversy in Malaysia where at a large music festival a UK male musician kissed another male musician in this largely Muslim country I was surprised at the extreme reaction by the government and press. Although I do not approve of using a public platform such as the concert stage to advocate one’s political views when folk instead are seeking and have paid for first and foremost entertainment, I also cannot understand why this brief sign of affection has caused such a national and global stir.

In the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, the producer staged what he termed ‘the Glasgow kiss’ when the singer / actor John Barrowman kissed another male during the opening ceremonies. When Barrowman asked the producer what kind of kiss he wanted him to perform the producer said “a loving one.”

This event was attended by dozens of countries where homosexuality is against the law. Therefore, it was a huge risk for this event to include this element and the producer made sure he checked with key officials before finding a way to send the Glasgow kiss around the world though the medium of television to over 1 billion viewers. Unlike the stooshy in Malaysia, the reaction to this kiss was more of a peck rather than a snog.

I learned many years ago that the meaning of words may be very different between the country of my birth and my beloved adopted country of my choice, Scotland. Shortly after moving to Scotland I travelled to Glasgow to set up a trade show stall at their exhibition centre. I stayed over night in a local hotel and soon realised that I would need a particular type of long haired carpet to cover the concrete floor of the stall.

I asked the young woman at the front desk of the hotel if she could help me find some shag. She was horrified, frowned and replied “Sir, this is NOT that type of hotel!” I then told her I was not looking for shag in the hotel but would appreciate her helping me find it on the street in the nieghbourhood. She repeated this time more forcefully and louder so that all could hear “This is not that type of hotel!”

Later when I asked local friends about the Scottish meaning of the word shag I blushed from head to toe and returned to the front desk to apologise to the young woman whom I had inadvertently offended.

Small mistakes may often have huge consequences. When I was in my twenties I was teaching for a continuing education programme entitled Open University of Washington, DC. This programme offered unusual workshops such as Social Kissing, of which I was the professor. The Washington Post newspaper heard about this workshop and invited me for an interview with their expert etiquette columnist known as Miss Manners. When I demonstrated for her the various types of social kisses including the air kiss (kissing the air upon the side of each cheek) she was unimpressed. I never heard from her again nor did my interview ever appear in print, nowever, later I was invited to appear upon a US national television game show entitled To Tell the Truth where the celebrity panel had to guess who was the professor of social kissing. The panel succeeded and I went home with a consolaton prize.

During my fifteen years in Scotland I have noticed that some of my female friends when they were about to receive my less formal air kiss or kiss more intimate upon the cheek would rapidly swerve to the centre to receive a lip to lip contact. When this first happened,kissing I lost my breath for a moment and then realised that I was in fact giving a gift to someone who perhaps had not been kissed upon the lips in a long time. Now, to avoid breaking my nose when the male or female friend swerves to center I pucker up at a distance and wait to see which kissing road they wish to pursue.

I also know that in some religious communities it is taboo for a male or female to touch someone who is not their wife or husband or of the same sex. Many years ago a leading political official was invited to a public event sponsored by a religious community. I told the leader of the community that upon the arrival of the female political official he should welcome her with a handshake. He politely refused because it would violate his religious values that forbid touching any other female than his wife. I wondered how I could avoid this impending awkward moment and quickly invited his wife to serve as the official host and the official was warmly welcomed to the event.

Regardless of your views about kissing or osculation, I shall respect and follow your values and beliefs as well as your comfort zones. However, in a world that is increasingly more and more divisive, I also believe that anything that unites us in love should be welcomed in some small way. Therefore, get ready to swerve because I shall continue to osculate early and often.

Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland. His views are his own and do not reflect any organisation or group. To read more about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot

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