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A Kiss is Still a Kiss

Author: Rachel Nielsen

July/Aug 2014
Social Issues
Page 50   ( 4 pages)

Summary: What is the deal with Russian men locking lips in greeting? Is it a thing? Or was it just a Brezhnev thing?


At a Moscow mall, two college students clasped hands across a table, folding their fingers over the back of each other’s hand, then did an American-style fist bump.

“It’s typical for us to greet each other this way,” said Azat Nagimov as he demonstrated the greeting with fellow 20-year-old Vanya Lyovkin.

More than three decades ago, Soviet Union General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev got a kiss on the lips from East German leader Erich Honecker. A news photograph of the moment took on a life of its own, cementing Brezhnev’s reputation as a smooching statesman, and creating a stereotype of Russian men as lip-lockers. Russian men ranging from their 20s to their 60s to their 80s, however, say the stereotype is far from reality.*

Nagimov has seen the famous 1979 photograph. “Personally, we don’t approve of that,” he said, speaking for himself and his classmates.

When you ask a group of Russian men if they kiss each other on the mouth, they respond as a chorus: “No, no, no.” True, they might put an air kiss or even a real kiss on the cheek of a close male relative or longtime friend, especially during a Russian Orthodox holiday. Otherwise, ethnic Russians limit their man-to-man contact to handshakes, shoulder pats and loose hugs. Kissing on the lips, they say, was for political bigwigs back in Soviet times.

Ironically, the stereotype of men kissing on the lips has persisted despite Russia’s ban on “gay propaganda.” Signed into law by President Vladimir Putin in June 2013, the measure criminalizes open affection between people of the same gender if that display can be construed as homosexual. Despite the law, or because of it, almost all of the Russian men asked about their greetings brought up gay issues – or thought they were getting interviewed about same-sex marriage.

Yet the men did not refute the idea of men kissing by saying it was a gay habit, but rather by saying it was non-Russian or non-Slavic.

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