From the archives.
When it was time to end a phone call, I knew what was coming.
“Un beso grande,” whoever I was talking to would say. “A big kiss.” It would roll off their tongue like See ya or bye.
I would follow suit, a little more awkwardly. “Un beso. Nos vemos.”
I have lived in Argentina twice: once for ten months in college, and, for six months with my husband and two kids. It is a place that feels like home and not-home, a strange mix of familiar and foreign.
It is strange, moving from the US to Buenos Aires. Strange to eat dinner at ten PM, strange to ride buses that weave through traffic like agile bumblebees, strange to accustom myself to the acrid taste of yerba mate.
Here’s what never feels strange: the Argentine way of saying hello and goodbye.
Sure, as a new transplant fifteen years ago, it took me a while to learn. I had to learn how to kiss. Or, rather, how to give a beso: touching the left side of my face with another’s in a greeting, accompanied by a cheerful smooching sound.
Introduced to someone new? Give them a kiss.
Meet a friend for coffee? Give them a kiss.
Leaving after you’re caffeinated? Give a kiss.
Say goodnight before turning in for bed? Give a kiss.
Arriving at a jam-packed birthday party? Go through the whole room, one person at a time, men, women, and older children, as the room pops with the smooching noises.
And always, when saying goodbye over the phone to a friend, or signing off on email, say, un beso grande.
I still know every nuance of when and where kisses are appropriate, but the general rule feels like what I want friendship, fellowship, and community to be.
That always, a welcome needs to be more than words.
Welcome needs to involve hands and face and bodies.
Welcome needs to get close enough to touch.
Also: even in a group of people, welcoming is a must. You must notice each person, even if you don’t talk to them again that evening. You must make an attempt to hear their name as they murmur it in your ear.
A warm greeting is expected.
In the US, especially after spending so much time in Argentina, I never know how to honor people when I meet them. Do I shake hands? Do I reach out to hug someone? Do I stay leaning back, my arms folded? It is different in each situation, depending on the gender of the person, the amount of time we’ve known each other, the social circumstance.
But the safe solution with people I don’t know is to keep my distance.
In Argentina, it is the opposite. Better to lean forward and connect rather than risk offending. Better to greet, to say goodbye, better to acknowledge each person with a hand on their shoulder and a quick beso.
Better to welcome someone, completely.
We left Buenos Aires a few years ago, and I still ache with the distance from my friends. I see their Facebook updates; I send emails. I think about Skyping, always when the time difference would wake them. Sometimes, I try not to think of them because it hurts too much to be apart.
I hold my friends in my head, in my heart, knowing that it will be years until I can hug them again. I think about how simple it was to call when we were one bus ride apart. When I would call just to ask when we were supposed to meet. When I could let them know we were five minutes away.
Even if we only spoke for ten seconds, we’d say un beso grande before we hung up. We’d laugh, and disconnect thoughtlessly. It was so easy to say when we knew the real greeting was coming. It was so easy to say when togetherness was more than a thought.
I found Micha Boyett’s blog through DL Mayfield’s Downward Mobility series, and loved her post about how a simpler, more diverse life found her. I’ve been lurking at her blog for a while, reading her lovely series on “One Good Phrase” series: everyday sayings that break open into extraordinary. I submitted one–but alas! The series was wrapping up the next day. So I’m posting it here, and hoping you’ll journey over to Micha’s blog for the meditations of a Mama Monk.
Image credit: Angel Morales Rizo