I’ll never forget that Parisian gentleman I was introduced to about a decade ago at a pub. Okay, fine, so I can’t remember his name or what he looks like. But I can still recall the feeling of shaking his hand, only to have him draw me near. Did he feel compelled to share a secret he’d never told anyone, forcing me to share a secret with him, after which we’d dance, laugh, and drink the night away and later tell our grandchildren that we met at a bar and it was love at first sight? Not even close. Instead, he gave me what I shouldn’t have been surprised to receive: a two-cheek kiss, reminding me of what I’d somehow forgotten: this is Montreal, ma chouette.
My surprise surprised me: I was born and raised in Montreal, and like many here, I kiss hello on both cheeks. Part of it has to do with my European background. Another part surely has to do with the fact that many of my relatives and friends are closed-mouth kissing apologists. We hug a lot, too. What? It’s a platonic sign of affection. Nothing to see here.
That is, if “here” is Montreal. On a recent trip to Toronto, a city I plan on moving to in a few months, I learned that perhaps those people I thought were crazy for thinking the closed-mouth/two cheek kiss or a big hug was an invitation for sexy times do, in fact, make up the majority.
A friend had told me that she thought Toronto was really cold. I disagreed. It had struck me as unusually kind. “Hellos” were always followed by “how are yous.” Strangers were usually willing to give me directions, even when I didn’t ask for them. Apparently there’s only so many times you can circle the same floor of a mall, trying to locate an LCBO like a confused Mel Gibson, before someone intervenes. (Given how much I was drinking at the time, a different kind of intervention probably would’ve been in order, but you had your heart in the right place, Toronto.)
And save for a few altercations with drug addicts (you guys shouldn’t buy drugs in broad daylight and expect me not to notice. What ever happened to back alley deals?), homeless people (if you’re angry that people are staring at you, you should stop carrying a cat on your back) and irritable female commuters (one who actually made my day: she denied me the seat next to her, claiming to be pregnant and unsure that I didn’t have lice. Though tired from the weight of two heavy suitcases after a six-hour bus ride, I still loudly and sarcastically thanked her for welcoming me to the city, proof positive that maybe I could be more confrontational outside Quebec since I needn’t mind the language politics. The city’s politeness rubbed off on me, too, as I opted not to say my first thought, “I’m sorry madam, but who would fuck YOU?”), Toronto seemed pretty nice.
On a recent visit, I was so inspired by a conversation with an acquaintance regarding writing opportunities in Toronto, I leaned in to give them a quick hug. Thinking nothing of it, I backed away, only to find that their partner was standing right behind us. I felt awkward. Though I think nothing of letting my male, gay friend closed-mouth kiss me in front of my husband, I wondered if I’d done something wrong in this instance.
“Yeah, we’re not really much of a huggy city,” another friend who grew up in TO would later confirm.
Oops. The first of many faux pas. What will my next blunder be?
Any new environment requires adaptation. I am intellectually prepared for this. But realizing I am moving to a town where people don’t necessarily show that much physical affection highlighted some concerns I’ve been pretending I don’t have: Will I be able to keep up with the pace of this city? Will I be broke all the time? Will I have 30 minutes to respond to any and all emails, lest the person who wrote it think I don’t care, as a fellow ex-pat hinted at? Will I consistently get misty-eyed every time I see a Habs jersey or hear someone say tabarnac?
Will I keep giving myself away as an outsider by consistently going in for two-cheek kiss?
I don’t have the answers to these questions yet, nor do I want to. There’s a comfort in uncertainty, sometimes. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
And if I’m going to out myself as a Montrealer, I’m glad it’s for something as harmless as the two-cheek kiss.
We are, after all, the Canadian porn capital.
(I’ll leave it there. The joke writes itself.)