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Kissing:

Joshua Foer, writing in The New York Times, reports (among other interesting things):

All across Africa, the Pacific and the Americas, we find cultures that didn't know about mouth kissing until their first contact with European explorers. And the attraction was not always immediately apparent. Most considered the act of exchanging saliva revolting. Among the Lapps of northern Finland, both sexes would bathe together in a state of complete nudity, but kissing was regarded as beyond the pale.

To this day, public kissing is still seen as indecent in many parts of the world. In 1990, the Beijing-based Workers' Daily advised its readers that "the invasive Europeans brought the kissing custom to China, but it is regarded as a vulgar practice which is all too suggestive of cannibalism." . . .

Vaughn Bryant, an anthropologist at Texas A&M, has traced the first recorded kiss back to India, somewhere around 1500 B.C., when early Vedic scriptures start to mention people "sniffing" with their mouths, and later texts describe lovers "setting mouth to mouth." From there, he hypothesizes, the kiss spread westward when Alexander the Great conquered the Punjab in 326 B.C.

The Romans were inveterate kissers, and along with Latin, the kiss became one of their chief exports. . . .

Thanks to David Tice for the pointer.

JC:
This is strange, since bonobos, which are closely related to chimpanzees and humans, definitely kiss.
2.15.2006 2:46pm
Nobody Special:
Gives new meaning in some ways to Catullus' "da mi mille basia" doesn't it?

Also, who cares what bonobos do? Kissing is a cultural thing as this article notes, and not a genetic thing. Chimpanzee culture isn't really important to this discussion, any more than "hey, people use sticks, and chimpanzees termite fish with them too!"
2.15.2006 2:56pm
Just an Observer:
Was it not the French who invented mayonnaise, french fries and french kissing?
2.15.2006 3:03pm
Cheburashka (mail):
Its important to keep in mind that people didn't have toothpaste before exposure to Western culture, and therefore were likely to have really icky breath.
2.15.2006 3:18pm
Chukuang:
Its important to keep in mind that people didn't have toothpaste before exposure to Western culture

But medieval Europeans weren't exactly slathering their teeth with Aquafresh either. It's more a modern culture than Western culture question. Also, India and China have long had practices of eating certain things (e.g. ginger) to keep the breath fresh.
2.15.2006 3:41pm
Taimyoboi:
In related news, biologists have also determined that non-European cultures are more predisposed to contracting cooties...
2.15.2006 4:07pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Taimyoboi:

That would be because those cultures, often less enamored of free market systems, have fewer providers of cootie insurance. Of course Western European countries provide a single-payer model of cootie insurance, but some object that the increased wait for some forms of cootie treatment offsets the advantages of broader cootie coverage.
2.15.2006 4:22pm
Taimyoboi:
JosephSlater,

Heh.
2.15.2006 4:37pm
Paddy O. (mail):
Clearly this is yet another thing we should blame Christians for. Who exported Roman values? After 300, it was the missionaries of course.

Greet each other with a holy kiss, indeed. And impose our Mediterranean/Middle Eastern imperialistic values on everyone else while we're at it.

The Lapps and the Chinese were fine until the Biblical smut was brought in, causing women around the world to begin saying, "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!"
2.15.2006 4:58pm
Moral Hazard (mail):
Forgive me if this question offends, but in the cultures that did not have kissing did they have oral sex?
2.15.2006 8:44pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Forgive me if this question offends, but in the cultures that did not have kissing did they have oral sex?

The Lapps discouraged oral sex, in the belief it might give people ideas about kissing.

Only one limited form of mixed dancing was allowed. They called it Lapp Dancing.
2.15.2006 9:00pm
ficus:
The Greeks knew about kissing before Alexander (356-323).

Plato (427-347), Phaedrus, 255e:
Like the lover, though less strongly, he desires to see his friend, to touch him, kiss him, and lie down by him; and naturally these things are soon brought about.

Earlier, Aeschylus (525-456), Agamemnon,
But Iphigeneia, -- with kindliness, --
His daughter, -- as the case requires,
Facing him full, at the rapid-flowing
Passage of Groans shall -- both hands throwing
Around him -- kiss that kindest of sires!
2.15.2006 11:37pm
BlackX (mail):
>The Lapps discouraged oral sex, in the belief it might give people ideas about kissing.

Reminds me of the standard Mennonite joke when I was growing up:

Q: Why don't Mennonites make love standing up?

Q: Because it might lead to dancing.

(Dancing was verbotten at the Mennonite HS and college I went to.)
2.19.2006 10:01am