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Kiss Off

May 26, 1985

A kiss on the hand may be quite continental, but a kiss on the lips can make you sick. According to Dr. Hans H. Neumann, writing in Connecticut Medicine, that's a particular danger with the kind of casual social bussing that's lately become the norm. Neumann lists some of the health risks posed by promiscuous osculation: strep throat, upper respiratory infections, influenza, herpes. Apparently what some people wouldn't wish on their worst enemies they're bestowing freely on their best friends.

Actually, friendship has nothing to do with it. As everyone knows, it's the custom these days for even the most barely nodding of acquaintances to press lips on meeting or departing. Five minutes is about par for establishing the kind of deep and meaningful relationship that makes a kiss on the mouth not only permissible but also obligatory. It's gotten so that failure to smooch even people whose names you never caught is taken as a sign of latent if not overt hostility.

Face contact, of course, has been supplementing the good old handshake for a long time. But until recently that contact usually involved a peck on the cheek or planting the lips fleetingly on a line somewhere between the chin and the ear. Now, even without thinking about it, some people are doing things that in the old days wouldn't have been allowed on a first date. Whence this change? Perhaps it has something to do with the kind of makeup that women have taken to wearing. In our experience some of the stuff tends to be rather gummy, which discourages the cheek-to-cheek embrace. Of course, not everyone remembers to be discouraged. At a party one night we saw two carefully made-up women press cheeks and get stuck together. This made seating arrangements at the dinner table most difficult.

No one is suggesting that lip-kissing be prohibited as a public health measure. One may, for example, continue to kiss one's spouse and one's children, although it's wise first to make sure that they had a complete medical checkup within the previous three hours. Even then it's a good idea to carry a stock of tongue depressers and make them say "ah" before committing oneself. Granted, this may indicate a certain lack of warmth. But better to be safe than sorry, we say. Better to be insensitive than infected.

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