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Books:Books:History:An Uncommon History of Common Courtesy
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An Uncommon History of Common Courtesy

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With engaging and artfully presented text, including sidebars on media mavens throughout history, social gaffes, and archaic manners, this book is as entertaining as it is informative. Readers delve into cultural similarities and differences through lively passages, colorful photography, and sidebars on unique history. Topics include Courtesies and Greetings, Communication and Correspondence, Dining and Entertaining, Hierarchies and Protocol, Hospitality and Occasions, Amusements and Institutions, Boundaries and Cultural Differences, New Technology and Old Manners. Whether you are planning a trip abroad or just want a fascinating, browsable read, find out what is universal and what is merely a product of one's culture.


  • Hardcover
  • 304 pages; 300+ color photos
  • 7 3/8" x 9 1/2"
  • © 2011

Author Info

Bethanne Patrick is a writer and book critic who blogs as The Book Maven. A graduate of Smith College with a master's from the University of Virginia, she hosts an online author interview show for PBS affiliate WETA. Her features, profiles, and reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, The Writer, and People.

Book Excerpt

Some cultures&151;including England and America, until relatively recently&151;ido not have a tradition of social kissing. In these societies, handshakes and sometimes hugs are the most common greetings. But many other cultures have been kissing in greeting for hundreds of years, and have evolved particular habits. Most fall under the ancient Roman category of osculum, or a kiss on the cheek. (Those classification-happy Romans also delineated basium as a kiss on the lips and savolium as a “deep kiss.”)

Unlike the other types of kisses (some historians specify 20 kinds of kisses, but they refer to purpose, not physicality), the kiss on the cheek is usually given in friendship, greeting, comfort, or respect. In France, the tradition is known as faire la bise and generally refers to a kiss on each cheek. However, the number of kisses given varies widely according to region in France—and it also varies in other countries. In Brazil two kisses are standard, but a third might be offered for “luck” if the recipient is unmarried. One of the most entrenched traditions is in the Netherlands, where kisses of greeting between friends and relatives always number three. Women kiss both males and females three times in succession, but men generally reciprocate only with women. With other men, they con- fine physical greetings to a handshake. Although the three kisses can look like an awkward head-bobbing dance, it is terribly impolite to refuse.

Why? “It’s a Dutch thing,” is the answer.

But wait! Kissing three times on alternating cheeks is also traditional in Egypt, Russia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro. Hmmm. Maybe not such a "Dutch thing" after all.

Photo Gallery


Mother's Day Gift


My mother loved her gift! I just wasn't sure if the price of the product was hidden as a gift.

Elli Mac



Things that make you go hmmmm


Thank you National Geographic. Great coffee table book. Really enjoying the "who knew".


Phoenix, AZ


How Courtesies Enrich Life


Keep It on Your Desk Use it as a Daily Reference Take a Break from Routine





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