Last evening, for the first time in so many years I can’t recall exactly who, or when or what the circumstances of the last time it happened were (though am pleased that I should have known such a chivalric gesture previously) a very genteel man kissed my hand.
It could be his octogenarian age which made this such a natural thing to do – though the last man was certainly not his age peer and I believe was a member of a German fraternity half of my then age of 39. It might be that he is English, a world traveler, a global thought leader and a networks influencer (long before social media made such ‘easy’) as such refined behaviour is somehow natural to men in these spheres of influence. I understand from my girlfriend that in all the years she has known him he has never kissed her hand.
It is gallant in the extreme, and evidently (most) American men often think it is silly or feel stupid attempting it, but this nearly archaic sign of regard for a woman Il est incroyable! A man gently taking her hand in his, kisses the air just above her skin and, sometimes the skin itself (as Jacques Chirac, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and Nicholas Sarkozy have so exquisitely executed on the back of all kinds of ladies hands – my favorite is the particular hand-kiss Keith Urban gave to his wife Nicole Kidman on the Red Carpet – it captures the fullest extent of his love and respect for her, intimate in the extreme, tender and effortless even with several billion people bearing witness).
For those of you who have never bestowed such, nor received, allow me to explain why this is such a high form of regard. A man doesn’t offer a hand-kiss lightly or randomly, only to particular lady to whom he feels a special level of homage is due. It is an unusually formal gesture. When a man kisses a woman’s hand it implies that he thinks her noble and that he respects her (pay attention, there is a lovely version of this in the
@2CELLOS & @ZuccheroSugar video) as a remnant of the feudal ceremony of vassalage in which a knight swore fealty to his King or Queen it also means that he is putting himself at her service. Of course there can be romantic connotations as we witness in period dramas and in romance novels but I think it’s important to understand the origins of the hand-kiss are based in respect, not seduction.
There are rules of engagement – of course, thank you Raven Emrys for the following three points:
First of all, one kisses a lady’s hand in only three social situations:
1.) You already know the lady, and she offers her hand,
2.) You are being introduced to her, and she offers her hand, or
What made my experience last night so extraordinary was there was no intention to receive such – blithely unaware (some of my friends my say, “as usual”) I extended my hand to the gentleman as he was departing our company, taking leave from the back seat of my girlfriends’ car. I gently clasp his hand while I verbally expressed my delight in finally having the occasion to meet him and how much I had enjoyed our conversation. On his part it was completely without artifice – he simply took my outstretched hand, gently cupping my fingers in his palm, lifted my hand to his mouth and kissed the spot just behind the knuckles of my two middle fingers. The effect on my being was one of humbled breathlessness – mind you, not a swoon – but surprise that I should be so regarded by someone so accomplished.
My friends seem to regard my life as being somewhat extraordinary – perhaps so. Perhaps it is extraordinary because I view the exquisiteness of life in measurable beauty such as an unexpected hand-kiss, these things happen to me because I am receptive to them, charmed by the possibilities and humbled by being present to them, grateful for a sweeping vista as well as the tilt of a man’s head over my hand as he calls upon the courtly manners so lacking in our world today.
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