To be greeted in the morning with a kiss from an office colleague is, to be sure, not everyone’s cup of tea. But is it an act suffused with unwelcome erotic intent – even a form of terror?

Hans-Michael Klein, chairman of the Knigge Society, Germany’s self-proclaimed etiquette watchdog, says that, to judge from his email inbox, the rise of the office kiss is starting to get on the nerves of his compatriots. They apparently view it as “not typical German behaviour”, a practice that is insinuating itself into their homeland from France, Italy and other steamy Mediterranean cultures.

Most Germans are probably less puritanical about these things than the Knigge Society cares to admit. Nonetheless, it may be no accident that German irritation at the office kiss coincides with German indignation at being told to guarantee the debts of the eurozone’s fiscally unrestrained southern European nations.

When the euro was launched in 1999, Germany’s citizens were assured by their leaders that European monetary union had strict rules against bail-outs. Imagine their wrath now that there is a growing risk that they will have to kiss goodbye to their money.

Interestingly, the Russian custom of men exchanging kisses with men has not deterred Germany from enthusiastically building up warm commercial relations with Russia. As far as concerns the eurozone, however, differences in economic performance and attitudes to the state find their parallel in divergent kissing habits.

Two kisses are generally enough in Italy and Spain, but three are the norm in Belgium. A helpful French website, Combien de bises? (How many kisses?), points out that four kisses are de rigueur in much of northern France.

Applied gracefully and without ulterior motives, the office kiss is a pleasant way to get the day rolling. The Knigge Society’s advice to revert to the handshake may work for some – but for the rest of us it would be the kiss of death.

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