Dutch Quirk #22: Give everyone three kisses to say hello

HomeLiving in the NetherlandsDutch Quirk #22: Give everyone three kisses to say hello

So, here’s a quirk that gets awkward really quickly if you get it wrong: the Dutch custom to greet you with three kisses on the cheek. 💏

The French do it, the Brazilians do it, the Polish do it…greeting one another with kisses is not unique to the Dutch.

But there are definitely some unspoken rules you should know about.

What is it?

As someone who is not used to this sort of greeting, there are immediately some questions bubbling up as soon as a Dutchie gets closer, and closer and…😳.

First of all, where do you turn your head? Is it left, right, left? Or right, left, right? It’s the first one. You lean in with your head tilted towards the left. We recommend learning this one by heart so you don’t end up with an awkward smooch (which might haunt you for life).

Next question, are we talking, you know, kissing. Lips-to-cheek sort of kissing? The answer is, no! You just sort of put your heads next to each other, cheeks touching lightly, and kiss the air next to their head.

And, do I just kiss anyone? Also, no. Usually, this kissing custom is reserved for close family and friends. Men don’t usually kiss one another.

Sometimes, it’s also all about the occasion. Three kisses are oftentimes exchanged for official or representative purposes. For instance, sometimes you see guests on TV shows being welcomed with the left-right-left smooch.

And it’s part of wishing someone a happy birthday! 🎂 If you’re invited to a Dutch birthday party, you’ll impress the birthday child by splitting up the Dutch word for “Happy Birthday’ with three cheek kisses.

Gekissfelikissceteerdkiss.”

Why do they do it?

It’s custom just as much as a handshake or a polite nod of the head. Interestingly, it’s more popular in the South than in the North of the Netherlands. Probably, because it is closer to Belgium and France and the kissy greeting is said to originate there.

Why is it quirky? 

Well, it’s just one of those things they don’t really tell you about before moving to the Netherlands (luckily, we just did). And all of those unspoken rules are a real cultural puzzle.

First of all, a lot of other nationalities are just not used to getting real up-close-and-personal when greeting someone. And, even if you’re used to the kisses, most countries just do two instead of three.

Watch expats tell their tale of encountering the Dutch cheek kiss.


Canada: “But like, it’s just putting your cheek on their cheek. It’s not even like it’s a kiss.”

Australian: “I just…you just go for the hand first. So then it’s fine.”

Polish: “I do it [cheek kiss] with my manager in the Netherlands. […] But I don’t know, is it common in the Netherlands to kiss in the office?”

Production: “NO!”

Should you join in? 

Absolutely! What a nice way to get to know the Dutch on a real intimate level. The perfect way to kick of your inburgering and get a step closer to that Dutch citizenship.

What do you think of this Dutch quirk? Have you experienced it? Tell us in the comments below!

Feature Image: undrey/Depositphotos

Cara Räker 🇩🇪
Cara moved to the Netherlands at fifteen and she is here to stay! After all, there is so much to love about it, except maybe the bread (as every German will tell you). Next to finishing up her bachelor's degree in European politics (dry), Cara loves to do yoga, swim, and cook delicious veggie food.

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