This particular social ritual is facing a serious threat from the Covid-19 crisis. Italians and other Europeans have been repeatedly warned that “cheek kissing” is too dangerous.
And although you “kiss the air” when touching both cheeks of family or friends, health officials insist this close proximity can easily spread the Covid-19 virus. These mandates protect human lives, but are a big challenge for “touchy/feely” Italians who show their affection and friendship in a caring display.
It’s unclear how long before the current pandemic will fade to just a bad memory. In coming months, face masks may serve as a visual and physical reminder to avoid cheek kisses, but there may be long-term changes to this time-honored tradition. Many people – especially the elderly, who are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 – may have lingering fears of being too close to others.
While cheek kisses are on indefinite hold among Italians, hand gestures can continue – from a social distance. Officially, they are called
, but that’s a fancy word to describe something that likely became common when different tribes started moving across Europe. Over time, it became especially common among southern Italians in cities, who needed a way to communicate when faced with many regional dialects.