The Hand Kiss: Is it Cute or Condescending?

A man kissing a woman's hand and giving her a hand kiss.

There are a few different types of kisses, and most of them are easy to interpret: When someone kisses you on the cheek, it’s a sign of affection; when someone kisses you on the lips, it means they have romantic feelings for you. But what about when someone kisses you on the hand?

Historically, the hand kiss is polite gesture. In some cultures, it’s a way to greet people; the same way Europeans greet people by kissing them on both of their cheeks, it’s customary in Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei to greet someone by kissing their hand. If you encounter the hand kiss while you’re traveling abroad, you can likely interpret it as a cultural greeting and nothing more. But if it happens on a date or with a guy you like, the context is completely different.

Few gestures are as difficult to read as the hand kiss. Is it romantic? Friendly? Ironic? Are they doing it to be funny, or are they doing it because they like you? Unfortunately, there isn’t one simple answer; it all depends on the context of the hand kiss to know if it’s cute or condescending.

Cute: When it’s Chivalrous
If a guy you like kisses you on the hand, it’s likely a flirtatious gesture. The hand kiss is seen as a throwback to chivalry; it’s symbolic. So, when guys do it, they’re usually trying to show you that they can be courteous and that they know how to respect a lady.

Think about it: The hand kiss usually happens when you greet or say goodbye to someone. Guys do it because they either want you to know that, a) they missed you and were thinking about you, or b) they had a nice time with you, and they’ll continue thinking about you once you part ways. The hand kiss can also be a respectful way of communicating, “I’m interested in you romantically, but I don’t want to push the boundaries until you’re ready.”

Condescending: When It’s a Mockery
No matter how genuine the hand kiss once was, it’s sometimes performed as a parody. Some guys kiss a woman’s hand in faux deference to her as an over-the-top gesture instead of a romantic one. But even then, it’s not necessarily a rude or condescending gesture; a guy is just doing it to get a laugh.

There’s no one set of rules that determine if a hand kiss is cute or condescending. That said, nine times out of 10, if a guy initiates a hand kiss, it’s coming from a chivalrous place. Rather than reading into it too hard, just try to enjoy the moment and bask in the joy of feeling like you’re living in a fairy tale.

Remember: You can initiate a hand kiss, too. The next time you’re flirting and trying to get a guy’s attention, extend your fist, palm-down, and see if he takes your cue.

Elizabeth Entenman

Freelance Writer

Elizabeth is a freelance writer, editor, and advertising copywriter in Brooklyn. Right now, she’s probably somewhere Instagramming her dogs.

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