Remembrance of things past… I am grateful to Jim and Sheilah. (1)

by Viviana on March 8, 2010

in Personal,ROMANIA

Remembrance of things past… I am grateful to Jim and Sheilah. They made me relive some of the best moments in my life. Below is an excerpt from their book about our lovely country, with more good than bad, and about a very young and enthusiastic Vivi…Viviana Ball née Palade, that would be me (lol).

First excerpt from DRACULA IS DEAD – How Romanians survived communism, ended it, and emerged since 1989 as the New Italy – Sheilah Kast and Jim Rosapepe

(more  in my next post)

“…A PROVERB WE HEAR often in Romania is “Kiss the hand you cannot bite.” The saying shows up elsewhere in the Balkans and in the Middle East, and we were told it had worked its way into Romanians’ thinking­ during the centuries of Ottoman domination. Smiling submission, even if you’re seething inside, is one way to keep the master from exercising all his terrible power. The proverb is a chilling tribute to hypocrisy, but because Americans are not in the habit of kissing any hands, whether or not they can bite them, the saying at first struck us as disconnected from twenty-first century reality.

But the old custom of hand-kissing is still good manners in Roma­nia. Those who do it are more likely to be repressing a smile than repressing hostility. Men greet women by kissing their hands.

The first few times, the hand-kissing threw Sheilah for a loop. In America, when she extends her hand to a man, she expects him to shake it. In Romania, she was not expecting him to take her hand, rotate it to be parallel to the ground, raise it to his lips with a bow, and land a kiss on it. At first, the ritual took her breath away. She felt swept up in a novel from another era, as if her footman were just around the corner with her horse and carriage. If the man added a slight smile or eye contact in that half-second before the kiss, the ritual was com­pletely irresistible.

Once she got over the sheer romance of the hand-kissing tradi­tion, she started wondering whether it were a paternalistic throwback to a time when women didn’t run businesses, own property, or have much independence. She raised that question with Viviana Palade, the young woman who was Jim’s Romanian language teacher.

It was hardly an egalitarian custom, Vivi acknowledged—men kiss women’s hands, but not the other way around. Still, she said, women have more control than it might appear. Vivi asserted that it’s up to the woman whether the gesture ends up as a handshake or a hand-kiss, and she demonstrated how. Vivi gently stretched her hand forward, fingertips in a delicate curve toward the floor—a clear invitation, she said, for a Romanian man to kiss the hand. By contrast, when she thrust her hand forward, perpendicular to the floor, with thumb point­ing upward, it was much more likely that a man would shake rather than kiss.

This was plausible, but, as it turned out, far from inevitable. The nuances of the angle of approach are lost on some Romanian men, who simply clutch a lady’s hand, position it before their mouths, and plant their lips upon it. It can be a lot like being trapped on the dance floor with an over-enthusiastic waltzer. If a graceful hand-kiss evokes the elegance of an eighteenth-century ballroom, a clumsy one suggests the equivalent of a middle school prom. Many professional women told us they’re tired of the hand-kissing habit—that it seems too personal in a modern professional setting, and you don’t know where those lips have been recently, or what germs might be lurking behind them. A kiss is still a kiss, they suggested, even when it’s on the metacarpals.

Vivi and other ladies told us the custom is entirely generational: young Romanian men don’t kiss women’s hands, but older men do. That’s another way of saying the ritual is dying out.”…

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