Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Game Theory and Kissing in Brazil

Game Theory and Kissing in Brazil

Greetings in Brazil are a very specialized activity, usually like a game of scissors, rock and paper – in which the two parties need to guess before hand what the protocol is likely to be. The knotty element here is that in European tradition, Brazilians move forward and hug and kiss each other on the cheek. Easy enough if there is a nationwide enforced standard. In lack thereof, the Paulistas (Sao Paulo residents) kiss once, the Cariocas (Rio residents) kiss twice and the Mineros (Minas residents) kiss thrice.

Thus, there are two factors – first, will or won’t the parties kiss, second, if they kiss, how many kisses will be exchanged. There is an additional layer of complexity – whether or not the kiss will actually exchange hands, or whether it will be an imagined cheek brush. In fact, add to that this, whether the cheek brush will be brushy enough, or whether like a hard disk read, it will whiff the surface of the cheek.

So imagine game theory – in Case 1 outcome, both parties kiss each other multiple times, both go home happy. This is the best case scenario, and usually happens successfully with grandmothers only, since it is common knowledge that they will go for the maximum variable.

In Case 2, one tries to kiss more times than the other wants to – in such case, the kissee (the one being kissed) is one up on the kisser since it is now clear that they like the kissee more than the kissee likes them back. The kisser now has the option of pretending they were extending their cheek to clear their throat or worse, as an exercise to control double chin.

However, there is the third case here in which these tables get turned. The doomed kisser from the Case 2 (who for the purposes of this case is referred to as the Kiss Virtuoso), realizes early in the kissing scene that they may not get the second (or third) kiss, and therefore he/she starts and quickly and very gracefully stops midway through execution. This is an art gained from years of kiss skullduggery. Thus, even when the kissee does not reciprocate, he/she is not entirely certain that the reciprocation was expected. All good if it ends here, but Case 3 usually does not.

This Case 3 scenario is especially interesting when the kissee, seeing the initial movement of the kiss virtuoso (KV) thinks that a kiss is being seriously solicited, and then after a moment’s hesitation not to hold back. The kissee moves forward with a possibly gawkish pout, thereby now becoming the kisser, only to find that the virtuoso has gracefully moved back leaving the kissee/kisser with a comical expression and a protruded ass and an angular back that must quickly be sprung back into straightness. The case three is truly worse than Case 2, because now you’ve been scammed. In Case 2, you were just overly affectionate, and easily forgiven, now you made a presumption about how much the other person wanted to kiss you, and are therefore exposed to additional jeer for your social inelegance. Now the KV has an upper hand on the kissee for the rest of the evening.

The “skill involved in becoming a KV” is therefore the dependent variable that throws the equation out of equilibrium. Thus, to anyone who is past their first week in Brazil, falling into a Case 2 is never the real dilemma, the game is wondering whether it is a KV one is about to greet.

And thus, the most likely outcome, the dramatic Case 4 scenario – everyone loses – one fake kiss only, both parties go home with no lost honour, and no real gain. You could have had three squarely planted kisses on your cheek, instead you got one bad one. Sao Paulo, known as a no-nonsense city, not surprisingly, has decreed not to waste its time on figuring out the toodlepips and will stay with the unit.

So the inevitable greeting time comes by. A new person is added to a party. You as a kiss player approach the person with slanting eye contact to understand how they play the game. The eye contact should never be direct, because then you are forced to introduce yourself, and thus have to complete the greeting. Instead, you let the host at the party greet the guest. If you are incredibly lucky, they will exchange only one hug and kiss (which side to go to is also important, try never to bang into someone’s forehead). So if they exchange one kiss, then it is reasonably certain that one is as far as any stranger will get with them. But if they kiss more than once, then you are potentially in trouble, so slant your glance further, and drop something, forcing unwitting Johnny next to you to be the enforced next person introduced.

So if Johnny gets it, just watch what happens to him, and then you have a fairly simple game – plan for exactly as many kisses as were successfully executed without embarrassment.

Of course, there is a caveat to everything – even the single kiss strangers may not always kiss, and may have a handshake reserved for strangers. And waiting for an additional kiss is nowhere near as bad as trying to get mouth to cheek contact when a lame handshake was all that was merited.

And finally, all of this may change during the course of the evening. You may start off the evening at a handshake, with Johnny, for instance, and in the duration of the evening, you may have reached the point of deserving two kisses – then again, you could goof up in receiving those two by never extending your cheek forward and thereby brining fleeting social indignity upon poor Johnny, and thereby lose your privileges in receiving kisses in the future. Nonetheless, all that aside, you figure – ah, he tried to go for me, so now Johnny and I are on kiss terms.

Now the catch, off course, you would never know you have lost this privilege, and would probably try and move your cheek forward for a kiss the next time you meet Johnny – and this time, Johnny, possibly spiteful, and one bad experience closer to becoming a Kiss Virtuoso, may well upstage you by allowing you to bend forward expectantly in vain. Or then, Johnny could move to Minas, and become a rabid kisser, and demand three everytime you met him. Who is to know?

In my own case, I have had the benefit of being a foreigner from a strange land – I inevitably get the handshake – whether in the land of one, two, or three kisses. This can be minutely embarrassing, when everyone gets a kiss and you get a sterile handshake, but better than a situation in which I plant a hard salivating smooch on the beard of someone who at best wanted to pretend to kiss me.

PS. Our team’s kiss intellectual Manisha adds another Case scenario – in which there is a kiss in which both the kisser and the kissee are dilettantes at the art. It sometimes happens when both clumsily end up face to face, very close to each others. Such moments are seldom cinematic slow motion with lips brushing, instead, they are mostly embarrassing, since both party ends up thinking the other is wondering if they are come on to, followed by a brisk pull back and no conversation or eye contact with one another for the rest of the evening.


At 2:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two words: Genially written!!

Hilarious for anyone who knows the culture.

At 9:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brazil kiss is not just a kiss:)

At 5:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's been a quarter century since I lived in Brasil (Sao Paulo) but at the time there was an informational/goal transmission in kissing.

One kiss was 'hello.' Two meant 'hello and I like you and best to the family.' Three was 'hello, I like you and wish you well and HOPE YOU GET MARRIED SOON.'

A four-kiss greeting meant 'Some bozo is watching and counting, and let's give the twirp a misdirect -- and hello and I like you.'

There are other weird things about Brasilian greetings, but I can't go into it all.

At 5:32 PM, Blogger workhard said...

LOL.. really good post...

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