Disappearing along with hierarchies, order and politeness
It used to be ubiquitous, but today it’s only a curiosity in the high nobility or upper class circles, and in the Vatican. Its disappearance has as much to do with the deterioration of hierarchies and order, as with the loss of an elaborate politeness prepared to do more than the necessary. The demystification of the female sex in the past fifty years, promoted in particular by the women themselves, also manifests itself in the absence of the kiss on the hand. Instead, its place has gradually been taken by kisses on the cheeks, the French ‘bises.’ They express a direct sensuality so typical of our brash society. The kiss on the hand is at once a subtle intimation and symbolic submission; the peck on the cheek is chummy behavior, taking place at pseudo-democratic eye level. In countries that have retained a residue of old world social intercourse, in Austria and Poland for example, the kiss on the hand is even today part of the established repertoire. In Germany, on the other hand, one would expose oneself to ridicule if one were to follow the archaic etiquette outside certain social groups. Of course it may then be a deliberate break with current conventions, which is certain to have an impact. However, the undertaking of this greeting ritual requires two – a man who knows what he’s doing, and a woman who knows what is being done. Gestures are no automatism. They reveal inner attitudes. If the constellation corresponding to the kiss on the hand is not present, its undertaking will not create it.