Gentleman’s Guide To Hand-Kissing Etiquette

Last updated on April 17th, 2024 at 03:54 am

In an era where traditional gestures of chivalry are dying, hand-kissing etiquette retains its allure.

The art of kissing a hand has long been associated with courtesy and politeness in the expression of chivalry.

Whether in literature, film, or real-life interactions, just like other gentleman etiquettes, this age-old etiquette has played a vital role in gentlemanly behaviour.

But how does one perform this timeless gesture with finesse and respect without appearing fake or invading another’s boundary?

In this gentleman’s guide, we will explore the origins, purpose, and correct execution of this age-long custom.

Table of Contents

What is Hand-kissing?

Hand-kissing is a traditional act of showing respect, admiration, or courtesy towards someone by gently bringing the back of their hand towards one’s lips and lightly kissing it.

The kisser warms up to the receiver who also should be willing and excited to give their hand for the act.

It is always in good taste for the kisser to read moods to know if it is appropriate.

Related: How to Shake a Hand Like a Gentleman

The History and Meaning Behind Hand-kissing

Hand-kissing dates back thousands of years and has different origins in various cultures.

Here are a few examples:

Origins of Hand-Kissing in Different Cultures

Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia

In ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, hand-kissing was a sign of respect and submission to the gods. People would kiss their hands and touch objects of worship as a way to show reverence.

Hand-kissing tradition in the Roman and Byzantine empires

The hand-kissing tradition was widely practiced in the Roman and Byzantine empires. It started as a way for subordinates to show loyalty and respect to their superiors. Emperors, kings, and other rulers had the privilege of being greeted with hand-kissing.

Hand-kissing in Medieval Europe

Hand-kissing became prevalent during the medieval period in Europe. It was primarily a gesture displayed by vassals and serfs towards their lords as a sign of loyalty and homage.

Kings and nobles, in turn, would allow individuals to kiss their hands as a symbol of their graciousness and benevolence.

Related: How to Conduct a Toast Like a Gentleman

What is the Purpose and Significance of Hand-kissing?

Kissing another’s hand is seen as a formal gesture and signifies a mark of humility and deference.

Although less commonly observed in modern times, it continues to be a symbol of politeness and a gesture of appreciation in certain formal settings and cultures.

Here are a few common interpretations:

  • Respect and honor: Kissing the hand of another is often seen as a mark of respect, honor, and deference towards the person whose hand is being kissed. It signifies recognition of their authority, wisdom, or status.
  • Politeness and courtesy: It is also a gesture of politeness and courtesy often exhibited as a form of greeting or farewell in formal settings, such as formal receptions, diplomatic events, or even between friends and acquaintances.
  • Religious and cultural traditions: In some religious or cultural traditions, hand-kissing tradition is associated with specific customs. For instance, in Catholicism, the Pope and bishops may receive hand kisses as a sign of reverence. In certain Asian cultures, elders are often honored through hand-kissing.
  • Romantic or courtly gesture: I never knew hand-kissing was for any other purpose apart from romance until I embarked on this research. I have always seen people kissing hands within the confines of romance and relationships.

In literature and historical contexts, it has been depicted as a gesture done by suitors or lovers to show affection, admiration, and devotion to their beloved.

Also Read: How to Treat Wines Like a Gentleman

When is Hand-kissing Appropriate?

A man kissing the hand of a woman

Kissing a hand is considered appropriate in different situations. Here are common situations that can be observed:

Formal Occasions and Events

Gala dinners and balls

Hand-kissing can be seen at formal events like gala dinners and balls, where attendees often dress in formal attire. This gesture is typically used to greet and show respect to hosts, honored guests, or individuals of higher social status. It adds an elegant touch to the occasion and reflects traditional etiquette.

Weddings and engagements

It may also be observed during weddings and engagements, particularly when guests are greeting the bride, groom, or their families. It is a way to convey respect, well-wishes, and congratulations on the special occasion.

Related: Dining Etiquette for the Gentleman

Cultural and Regional Considerations

Countries where hand-kissing is more prevalent

The tradition of kissing a hand is more prevalent in certain countries and cultures, where it is considered a customary form of greeting. For example, in some European countries like France, Italy, and Spain, the tradition is still practiced, especially in formal settings.

It is often seen as a sign of respect, politeness, and deference towards older individuals or those in positions of authority.

Situations where hand-kissing may not be customary

In some cultural contexts, it may not be customary or may be seen as outdated.

For instance, in many Western countries, handshakes or hugs are more common forms of greeting, even in formal settings.

Additionally, in more egalitarian societies, kissing a hand may be perceived as overly formal or even inappropriate, especially in casual or business settings.

Related: Gentleman’s Guide to RSVP Etiquette

The Proper Technique for Hand-kissing

The proper technique for kissing a hand involves a combination of approach, demeanor, and execution.

Let’s look deeper into each of these aspects in detail:

  • Approach and Demeanor: Approach and demeanor matter a lot when trying to kiss someone’s hand. Approach the person with confidence and grace. Stand or approach them with good posture, maintaining a relaxed and composed demeanor. This will help create a positive impression and set the tone for respectful interaction.
  • Eye Contact and Smile: Make eye contact with the person you are greeting and offer a warm smile. This demonstrates your sincerity and genuine interest in the interaction. It also helps establish a connection and puts the other person at ease.
  • Selection of Hand to Kiss: When initiating the hand-kissing gesture, it is customary to offer your right hand, as it is generally considered the dominant hand. However, if the other person extends their left hand, it is polite to adapt and kiss their offered hand instead.

Related: How to Observe Personal Space Etiquette

  • Gentle and Respectful Touch: Gently take the person’s hand in yours, ensuring a firm yet gentle grip. Avoid squeezing or gripping too tightly, as this can be uncomfortable. Treat the person’s hand with respect and care.
  • Brief and Subtle Lip Contact: Bring the person’s hand towards your lips, aiming to lightly brush your lips against the back of their hand. The contact should be brief and subtle, without applying pressure or leaving a visible mark. The gesture is meant to be a gentle and respectful kiss, rather than an intimate or passionate one.

Remember, the key to executing the act properly is to approach it with respect, grace, and consideration for the other person’s comfort.

Proper Etiquette After Hand-kissing

Proper gentleman etiquette after hand-kissing involves acknowledging the person with respect and maintaining a courteous demeanor throughout the conversation or interaction.

Let’s explore the specific aspects of gentleman etiquette in this context:

Acknowledging the Person

  • Verbally Expressing Respect and Gratitude: After hand-kissing, a gentleman should verbally show respect and gratitude using polite language like “Thank you for your kindness” or “I am honored to meet you.” This underscores his appreciation for the gesture, displaying respect and gratitude.
  • Maintaining Appropriate Body Language: Display proper body language when engaging with someone. Stand or sit tall with a confident posture to show respect. Sustain eye contact to demonstrate attentiveness. Prevent crossed arms or closed gestures that could erect barriers in communication.

Stretching the Conversation Further

  • Transitioning Smoothly into the Next Topic: After recognizing the individual, smoothly segue into the next topic. Employ open-ended questions or pertinent remarks to maintain conversational momentum. This showcases your curiosity, fostering a relaxed and captivating ambiance.
  • Avoiding Awkwardness or Discomfort: A gentleman must prioritize the other person’s comfort, steering clear of awkwardness. Attend to verbal and non-verbal signals. If disinterest arises, politely wrap up and thank them for their time, respecting boundaries and personal space.

By adhering to these guidelines, a gentleman can demonstrate respect, gratitude, and courtesy after hand-kissing.

Remember, the key is to maintain a polite and attentive demeanor throughout the interaction.

Similar: Eye Contact Rules for Men

Common Mistakes to Avoid when Hand-kissing

There are common mistakes that can arise when engaging in hand-kissing. It is important to avoid these mistakes as they can detract from the gesture’s intended meaning and impact.

Let’s examine two key areas where mistakes can occur:

Overdoing the Gesture

  • Excessive Lip Contact: An often seen error is using too much lip contact when hand-kissing. Recall, that the act of kissing a hand signifies respect, not intimacy. Maintain a brief, subtle lip contact, avoiding excess or lingering touch that could cause discomfort.
  • Lengthy Hand-holding: Although holding the person’s hand during the act is suitable, prolonged holding should be avoided. Extending it can lead to discomfort. Opt for a short, respectful touch, releasing gently after completing the gesture.

Neglecting Personal Hygiene

  • Cleanliness of Hands: Before hand-kissing, essential to have clean, well-groomed hands. Untidy hands could convey disrespect. Maintain hand hygiene by washing regularly to uphold a positive impression during such interactions.
  • Breath Freshness: When hand-kissing, also factor in breath freshness due to proximity. Maintain fresh breath by brushing, using mouthwash, or having a mint before interactions for a pleasant experience.

Avoiding these common mistakes can ensure that the hand-kissing gesture is executed appropriately and respectfully.

Related: How to Dress Like a Gentleman

The Evolving Perceptions of Hand-kissing Etiquette

The perceptions of hand-kissing etiquette have evolved, reflecting changes in societal norms and individual preferences.

Let’s explore the two key aspects of this evolution:

Modern Perspectives on Traditional Gestures

  • Modernization and Informality: Contemporary society values informality and departs from old traditions. Some, like hand-kissing, may seem outdated or overly formal in specific contexts. Modern views emphasize equality and casual social interactions.
  • Cultural and Regional Variations: Views on hand-kissing differ worldwide due to cultural variations. While rare in some cultures, it remains respected in others. Individual Preferences and Comfort Levels
  • Personal Boundaries and Comfort: Changing perceptions of hand-kissing etiquette are influenced by personal preferences and comfort. Some value it as respectful, while others feel discomfort.
  • Communication and Consent: Open dialogue and consent are vital in hand-kissing etiquette. Assess the person’s comfort and preferences before initiating.

Misconceptions and Myths about Handkiss

Just like everything, there are misconceptions surrounding handkiss as people try to misinterpret situations or just blatant misinformation for whatever reasons.

Here are some myths or misconceptions about handkiss:

1. Handkiss is only Performed by Men

While traditionally handkisses were more commonly performed by men towards women as a gesture of respect or admiration, in modern times it is not limited to any specific gender.

Anyone can perform a handkiss to show courtesy and respect towards another person.

2. Handkiss is a Romantic Gesture

While handkisses can be seen as romantic in some contexts, they are not necessarily always meant to be romantic.

The act can also be a gesture of respect, admiration, or courtesy towards someone in a more platonic or formal way.

3. Handkiss is an Outdated Gesture

While handkisses may not be as common in everyday interactions as they once were, they are still used in certain cultures or formal settings as a sign of respect or courtesy.

It can still hold significance and be appreciated by those who understand the gesture.

4. Handkiss is Mandatory in Certain Situations

While handkisses may be expected in some cultures or contexts, they are not mandatory.

It is always important to consider the preferences and comfort of the person you are interacting with before performing a handkiss, and to respect their boundaries.

5. Handkiss is Overly Formal or Old-fashioned

While handkisses may have a formal connotation, they can also be a warm and genuine gesture when done with sincerity and respect.

It can be a unique way to show appreciation or admiration towards someone, and can be a meaningful gesture in the right context.


Understanding and practicing proper hand-kissing etiquette is an essential aspect of being a gentleman.

By following the guidelines outlined in this guide, a gentleman can demonstrate respect, courtesy, and grace when engaging in this traditional gesture.

It is important to approach the gesture with confidence and maintain appropriate body language, while also being mindful of cultural and individual preferences.

Avoiding common mistakes such as excessive lip contact and neglecting personal hygiene is crucial.

As perceptions of etiquette evolve, it is essential to adapt to modern perspectives and respect personal boundaries.

By embodying these principles, a gentleman can navigate hand-kissing etiquette with elegance and respect.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is hand-kissing romantic?

Hand-kissing can be considered romantic in some cultures and contexts. It’s a gesture that symbolizes respect, admiration, and even affection, often seen in romantic or courtly settings.

Is kissing a hand flirting?

Kissing a hand can sometimes be interpreted as flirting, depending on the context and the relationship between the individuals. It’s a gesture that can convey interest and attraction.

Why does a man kiss a woman’s hand?

A man might kiss a woman’s hand to demonstrate respect, politeness, or admiration. It’s a traditional gesture often associated with chivalry and courtly behavior, especially in formal or romantic settings.


Guide to hand-kissing