Invader Stu: The 3 kiss rule

If you have a Dutch friend it is inevitable that at some point during your friendship they will try to kiss you. It’s a simple fact. They can’t control themselves. However, when this does happen it is important to not get too excited (or scared).

It is not necessarily a sign that they have finally given into your animal magnetism and wish to take your friendship to the next level. No. You have probably just encountered the Dutch three kiss rule.

Kissing culture shock

In the Netherlands it is considered quite normal for Dutch people to greet each other with three kisses on the cheek. It is also customary to do the same again when saying goodbye. It’s just a friendly way of saying hello and farewell. It’s not limited to the Dutch either.

As part of your inburgering process you might be expected to join in too. This can seem rather shocking if you come from a country such as England where shaking hands before the third date is sometimes considered to be quite forward.

Luckily there are a few unwritten rules to help guide you, and stop things becoming too socially awkward.

Who should I be kissing?

Sometimes it is hard to know just how familiar you have to be with someone before you should start kissing them on the cheeks every time you see them.

I see my dentist on a regular occasion but should I start kissing him on the cheeks three times before he starts my six month check-up?

What about the people on the train that I see every day but don’t actually know the names of yet? Should I be working my way down the train carriage, kissing each of them three times on the cheeks as I go?

Probably not. It would seem that it’s best to only use the three kiss greeting with close friends and family (unless you want to cause a scene or be forced to find a new dentist).

Must we all kiss?

Depending on how you look at it, it would seem that the ladies have drawn the short straw when it comes to cheek kissing. They are expected to kiss and get kissed by everyone. Men, women, children... household pets if they are really unlucky.

However, men are only expected to cheek kiss women. This seems to be an unwritten rule that men themselves may have written, if it had been written down.

Real vs. fake

There is some debate over whether the kisses should be real kisses or fake air kisses. There seem to be variations on the rule. However, all parties involved tend to agree that it is not good etiquette to lick your lips and proceed to make the other person’s cheeks very wet.

Right, left, right or left, left, right?

It is a good idea to have some kind of signal worked out beforehand for who is going to go which way first.

Get it wrong and there is a high risk that your friendship will suddenly become far more intimate than before or (if at a family gathering) you will never hear the end of the story about the time you tried to make out with your grandmother (oma).

Kissing like an expat

Equally confusing is what happens when neither of you are Dutch. Do you still follow the Dutch three kiss rule or do the greeting rules of your own country apply? What if you are both from different countries with different rules? What then? Which rule overrides which? One kiss? Two kisses? Three? Four?! FIVE??!!

And what about the extremely awkward moments when one of you goes in for a kiss but the other goes in for a hug (and you end up accidently kissing their neck) or a handshake (and you end up randomly kissing the air in front of their face)?

And even the Dutch don’t know what to do sometimes. It can be very confusing. What are you supposed to do as a Dutch person when faced with a group of expats? Kiss? Hug? Shake hands? Nod? Give them a friendly punch on the arm? Rub noses? The whole thing can be very distressing.

Birthday Kisses

If you are attending someone’s birthday it is often expected split up the word "gefeliciteerd" while kissing them on the cheek three times, as if attempting some kind of ventriloquist trick.


And finally...a word of warning

Be careful when dealing with the elderly. They have become extremely cheeky in their old age and will try to bend the rules of the three kiss system. They have gone rogue.

Maybe you notice that their first cheek kiss was dangerously close to the corner of your mouth. It could have been an accident. Maybe their eye sight is not so good any more.

So you take extra precautions on the second kiss and try to steer them more towards the cheek area with an extra turn of your head. However, they seem to resist your attempts and the second kiss lands right on the corner of your mouth. You feel part of their lips on yours!

With a sudden horror you realise there is still one more kiss to go and it was not an accident. They are zeroing in, getting closer and closer. They are actually attempting to kiss you!

There is only one terrifying question that fills your mind at that point: "What do I do? What do I do?!"

For that I have no answer. You are on your own!

Invader Stu is an accident prone Englishman who has been suffering from Dutch culture shock for the last ten years. Enjoy his stories, more of which can be found on Invading Holland.

Stuart B


Stuart B

An accident prone Englishman living in Holland since 2001. Still not great with the language but finds stampot lekker.

Read more



Leave a comment