British people excel at making the most innocent of situations awkward. It's our national pastime. As such, the simple act of saying 'hello' to a visitor as they walk through our office door in London now fills me with apprehension. I'm a man and our client is a lady. Do I go in for the kiss?
To be clear upfront, what follows is about pecks on the cheek, rather than full-on frenchies. (This isn't that sort of blog post.)
If you work in one of the more conservative industries, or if you're not in a large cosmopolitan city, you might be reading this and screaming "no! no! are you raving mad?! Don't kiss your clients!". At least, that's the reaction I got when I discussed this piece with some of my banker friends.
But I work in startup-land and prior to that I was a media luvvie. Industries where informality rules and lines between friend and business contact are blurred. A welcome kiss is expected and appreciated. A firm handshake is the equivalent of the cold shoulder.
But which kiss...? There's London style, a double kiss on each cheek; traditional British style, with one kiss on the opposite cheek; and the American kiss-hug, to name just a few possible techniques.
As if all this wasn't complex enough, it becomes a veritable minefield when other cultures are involved. I've recently started doing a lot of work in the Netherland where the Dutch enjoy a triple kiss. Yes - that's right. Three kisses. Left, right then left again. Hope you remember that sequence in the heat of the moment. Get the rhythm wrong and you land on the lips. Oh the horror!
Do other cultures have this same level of awkwardness as the Brits? I'm not sure. I feel the Spanish just kiss, kiss and be merry. As such, it's only appropriate to consult the bible of British propriety for an answer: Debrett's.
Even Debrett's - the ultimate guide to proper behaviour - has absolutely no wisdom to offer us on workplace smooches, thought they do offer some invaluable advice for life: "no sound effects are needed".
As if real-world workplace kissing wasn't complex enough for the modern metropolitan man, in the digital world we now have written kisses to contend with as well. As Janice Turner noted in The Times: "between female colleagues anything less than 'XX' is frosty". Americans haven't quite caught on to this one yet, but for years the Brits and Australians have plastered 'xx' at the bottom of emails, sometimes implying advance gratitude, but it's usually just plain old passive aggression. (Translation for the Americans: 'xx' = 'xoxo'). At what point in a professional relationship is it appropriate for a man to place kisses at the bottom of an email? I just don't know.
So there I am, frosty and old-school, just sticking my arm out for a handshake unless a cheek is proffered. Even then, handshakes can be complex things. That's why earlier this week, I was delighted to watch this video and note that someone else has more difficulty with the handshake than I do: the want-to-be leader of the free world, Donald J. Trump.