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Do the Dutch kiss three times?

When people think of the Netherlands, they often think of windmills, tulips, and wooden shoes. However, the Dutch culture has many more unique customs and traditions that make it distinct from the rest of Europe and the world. One such tradition is the three kisses greeting, known as “drie keer zoenen” in Dutch. This custom involves kissing a person on alternating cheeks three times upon meeting them. But why do the Dutch great each other this way? And is it truly a widespread cultural practice in the Netherlands today? Let’s take a closer look at the origins and current status of the three kisses greeting in the Netherlands.

The Origins of the Three Kisses Greeting

The exact origins of the three kisses greeting in the Netherlands are unclear, but it seems to date back centuries as a traditional form of greeting among family and close friends in Dutch culture. Some sources suggest it began as early as the 1600s during the Dutch Golden Age, a time of great economic success and cultural influence for the Netherlands. The kisses may have simply reflected the warmth and intimacy of close personal relationships at the time.

Other theories trace the roots of the three kisses back even further to the Middle Ages, when the Netherlands was part of the Holy Roman Empire ruled by the Habsburg family. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who was born and raised in the Netherlands, reportedly introduced the custom to the Dutch royal court after encountering it on his travels to Italy and Spain in the early 1500s. From the aristocracy, the three kisses greeting then filtered down to all levels of Dutch society over the centuries.

Spread Through Europe

The three kisses tradition did not remain confined to just the Netherlands, however. Through trade, politics, and intermarriage among royal families, the custom spread to other parts of continental Europe over the centuries. By the 1700s and 1800s, the three kisses had become common greeting etiquette in many parts of Europe, especially among the upper classes. Countries like France, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, and parts of Germany adopted their own versions of the triple kiss greeting.

Yet the Netherlands is still most closely associated with the three kisses tradition. It endured there as an integral part of the culture while fading away in some other European nations in the early 20th century. Even today, many foreigners connect the three kisses specifically with the Dutch, leading to the common question: “Is it true the Dutch greet each other with three kisses?”

Current Practice in the Netherlands

So how prevalent is the three kisses greeting in the Netherlands today? It is still widely practiced, though the frequency and situations when it’s used have changed over time. Some key points about the current norms:

– It’s mainly used among family, friends, and acquaintances, not with strangers. The three kisses are generally reserved for people who know each other fairly well and are happy to see each other.

– Women tend to practice it more frequently than men, who often just handshake or nod. But men will also exchange three kisses with female friends or relatives.

– The kisses alternate between right and left cheeks, typically right first. The cheeks barely touch rather than actually kissing.

– The kisses make a symbolic smacking sound in the air near the cheek. But lips do not need to touch the face.

– Handshakes or hugs often accompany the three kisses. They are not mutually exclusive greetings.

– Three kisses are common in both informal and formal settings among acquaintances. In business settings, even executives will exchange the triple cheek kiss with contacts they know well.

– Geographic region and age impact frequency. Those in the southern Netherlands use three kisses more regularly than northerners. Younger generations are also less inclined to practice the tradition.

– Situational factors influence when it’s appropriate. Greetings tend to be more formal and reserved if people have not seen each other in a long time or want to maintain professional distance.

So while三吻 may not be universal in all contexts, it remains alive and well as an integral part of Dutch culture. Visitors to the Netherlands will likely encounter it, especially if meeting Dutch friends or family.

Three Kisses vs. Other European Countries

The Netherlands is far from the only European country to practice a triple kiss greeting. But small differences exist in how it is performed elsewhere:

Country Number of Kisses Cheek Order
Netherlands 3 Right-left-right
Belgium 3 Right-left-right
France 2 Right-left OR left-right
Switzerland 3 Right-left-right
Germany 3 Left-right-left
Austria 2 Right-left

As you can see, the Dutch follow the same right-left-right sequence as the Belgians and Swiss when performing the three kisses. The Germans reverse the order, starting left. And the French and Austrians simplified to just two kisses.

But only in the Netherlands does the triple kiss remain a widespread cultural practice still seen regularly among family, friends, and acquaintances. Foreigners often have to adjust when visiting, as three right-left-right kisses are the norm.

Situations When Three Kisses are Used

Beyond a simple greeting, there are some specific situations where three kisses are commonly used in Dutch culture:

Congratulating Someone

When congratulating a friend, colleague, or family member on a birthday, job promotion, marriage, pregnancy, or other happy occasion, three kisses often accompany the verbal congratulations and any gifts or cards. This adds warmth and intimacy to the congratulatory moment.

Parting Ways

Just as three kisses greet people, they also bid them farewell upon parting ways after meeting up. When leaving a gathering of family or friends, Dutch people usually exchange the triple cheek kiss as they depart along with handshakes or waves.

Run-Ins on the Street

When Dutch people randomly run into someone they know while out and about, such as bumping into a neighbor on the street, three quick kisses are commonly exchanged. This maintains the intimacy and enthusiasm even during casual, unplanned encounters.

Business Meetings Among Colleagues

In many corporate settings, Dutch colleagues who work together regularly and know each other well will exchange the iconic three kisses at the start and end of business meetings. However, this is normally skipped in very formal meetings of high-level executives who don’t interact frequently.

So from happy occasions to chance encounters to professional get-togethers, the three kisses greeting punctuates many social situations and interactions in Dutch life. Those living in or visiting the Netherlands will likely experience it firsthand.

The Significance of Three Kisses in Dutch Culture

Beyond just a simple greeting, the three kisses hold deeper cultural significance in the Netherlands. Here are some of the key values and meanings attached to the tradition:

Warmth and Affection

Exchanging three kisses conveys a sense of warmth, closeness, and affection between the two people. Even if they were just together the day before, the kisses reinforce the fondness and value of the relationship upon reuniting. This reflects broader Dutch cultural values of openness, directness, and valuing interpersonal connections.

Expression of Trust

Cheek kisses require a level of comfort and trust between two people, as their faces come in close contact. The back and forth motion also conveys mutual trust and care for each other. This matches the Dutch cultural emphasis on trustworthiness, honesty, and reliability in relationships.

Inclusion and Acceptance

By participating in the three kisses ritual, immigrants and visitors to the Netherlands can gain a feeling of being accepted into Dutch society and the other person’s life. Dutch people often teach newcomers the custom to help them adjust and feel welcomed. This reflects the inclusive nature of the culture.

Tradition and Heritage

After centuries of practice, the three kisses remain an enduring emblem of Dutch heritage. It connects modern Dutch people to past generations who also practiced this unique custom. Keeping the tradition alive pays homage to their history and cultural identity.

So the three kisses greeting carries deeper social-emotional significance and values for the Dutch beyond mere etiquette. Foreigners can better understand the culture by learning and participating in the custom themselves.

Social Rules and Etiquette

While exchanging three kisses is natural for locals, it may feel awkward or confusing for foreigners visiting the Netherlands. Here are some key etiquette guidelines to keep in mind:

Don’t Initiate with Strangers

Only initiate three kisses with people you know fairly well and comfortably. Wait for others to start it if uncertain. Shaking hands is always acceptable when meeting someone for the first time.

Master the Right-Left-Right Sequence

Make sure to start with the right cheek first, then alternate left-right. Hesitating or going out of order can create an awkward moment.

Lightly Brush Cheeks Together

Gently brush your cheek against theirs without fully pressing faces together. Do not actually kiss their skin. Maintain a comfortable distance.

Make Kissing Sounds Near the Cheek

Making a light smacking sound is customary, but lips should not actually touch their face. Mimic the sound as you brush cheeks.

Two Kisses is Okay Too

If unsure, exchanging just two kisses is fine. This still shows friendly intentions.

Don’t Take Rejection Personally

If someone declines the three kisses or pulls back, don’t be offended. Respect their personal boundaries. A handshake is still polite.

Following these tips on proper form and etiquette will help you successfully navigate the cheek kissing tradition in the Netherlands.

Advice for Visitors

For those visiting the Netherlands for the first time, participating in the three kisses tradition can feel strange or intimidating. Here are some tips to make the experience smooth and comfortable:

– Observe how Dutch people greet each other first to learn the norms in context.

– If you feel uncomfortable, politely request to just handshake instead. Most Dutch will understand.

– Reciprocate the number of kisses you receive. If they initiate two, stick to two back.

– Keep the kisses light, quick and cheek-only. Don’t overthink technique.

– If messing up sequence, laugh it off. Dutch people are very casual about this.

– Relax and remember it’s just a cultural difference. Don’t let it create unease.

– Appreciate the meaning behind the kisses. It shows you are welcomed and respected.

– Consult Dutch friends on appropriate situations to use three kisses vs. handshakes if uncertain.

The triple cheek kiss may feel odd at first as a visitor, but keeping these tips in mind helps gain confidence to participate in this charming Dutch custom. Accepting it graciously also shows respect for the local culture.

Impact of COVID-19 on Three Kisses

The global COVID-19 pandemic had a profound effect on social interactions and customs around the world, including the three kisses greeting in the Netherlands. To prevent virus transmission through close physical contact, public health authorities strongly discouraged the traditional cheek kisses for a time.

Handshakes were also discouraged, so waves and elbow bumps became common greetings instead during the height of the pandemic. Many Dutch found it challenging to avoid their reflex of three kisses after a lifetime of habit. But restraint was exercised for the sake of public health.

As pandemic concerns eventually eased with vaccination campaigns, the three kisses made a gradual comeback in the Netherlands by mid 2021. However, some degree of restraint and selectivity remained the norm compared to pre-pandemic times. Dutch people largely refrained from the kisses when meeting elderly persons, those in poor health, or in crowded settings. The pandemic encouraged greater situational awareness and discretion when sharing close contact.

But in most everyday situations, the cheek kisses resumed, signaling a return to cherished cultural tradition and normalcy after prolonged isolation and distancing. The core custom remained intact through the crisis. Time will tell if any permanent changes emerge in how the Dutch practice their trademark triple cheek kiss in the post-COVID era. But it remains a strong cultural tradition.


While the three kisses greeting may seem curious to outsiders, it is a cherished ritual that reveals the warmth, openness, and connection valued in Dutch culture. The Netherlands remains the country most associated with the tradition worldwide, even as similar practices exist elsewhere in Europe. Dutch people often exchange three light kisses on alternating cheeks upon meeting, congratulating, departing, or celebrating together to express affection, trust, and inclusion. Foreigners should observe the etiquette but not feel shy participating. With time, it may even come to feel natural. The iconic three kisses are likely to endure as a distinctive part of the Dutch experience for generations to come.