Pandemic or not, I’m kissing the ‘ethnic kiss’ goodbye


“No hugs and kisses” might have seemed like an unusual request of my wedding guests. But I was tying the knot just weeks after Melbourne’s Omicron wave that peaked around Christmas, so I didn’t want to catch COVID-19 at my wedding. Not only because I wanted to avoid my big day becoming a super-spreader event, but I was really looking forward to my Port Douglas honeymoon after the stressful year of postponements and pandemic anxiety.

In the traditional Maltese family I grew up in, kissing almost everyone we came across was part of our culture. Not only was the intimate greeting a sign of respect, but failing to pucker up when encountering so much as a distant relative brought shame to the family.

Failing to pucker up when encountering so much as a distant relative brought shame to the family.Credit:iStock

On the day before my wedding, my driver (who was my cousin) had to be replaced because he tested positive on a rapid antigen test. He had attended another ethnic wedding the previous weekend where the no-kissing rule wasn’t so enforced. With a third of the state’s population being European ex-pats, it’s naive to expect all those ethnic families would be adhering to such strict social-distancing rules for so long.

As a teen, I lost count of the times I was dragged out of my bedroom and ordered to greet a friend of my parents who had popped in to visit – whom I had never met before in my life. When I drew the line at an awkward “hello”, my Mum would whisper to me – through clenched teeth – to stop being rude and “go give Doris a kiss”.

I could never understand why being forced to kiss a total stranger in my own home was not only normalised, but enforced. Back then, it was easier not to argue.

Now it’s 2022, and finally consent and respecting personal boundaries have become hot topics. But this shouldn’t be limited to a sexual context, but socially as well.

At my wedding I had a “no hugging or kissing” policy to keep myself and my guests safe from COVID.

At my wedding I had a “no hugging or kissing” policy to keep myself and my guests safe from COVID.Credit:Robert Wagner

The best part of living in the most locked-down city in the world was that, for a couple of years, I was free from the expectations of having to pucker up when I didn’t want to. I felt a smug sense of relief each time I intercepted a relative with that look in their eyes that told you they were closing in for a smooch.

Offering my elbow for a COVID-safe tap, or blowing air kisses before they could even get within 1.5 metres was my ultimate victory. It was also a silent signal that “I don’t consent”.



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