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Cheek kissing is a very discussed topic in each site like this, because it is quite different depending on the country (number of kisses (especially), when to cheek kissing, men/women...) and it is a thing a foreigner will do even in a short stay. There is a lot of information on the internet about each country culture respect of it, like this map of France.

I didn't ever think about which side should be kissed first, until I moved to (southern) Italy and I had a few of embarrassing situations because here they start kissing left cheek, i.e. moving the head to the right. It is even more embarrassing when men also cheek-kiss here. Then I realized in Spain we always start kissing right check.

But I didn't find information (regarding a few sentences on Wikipedia) about this matter. Is it any cheek-kissing-depending-on-countries collection including it? Maybe it is more stablished in countries with an odd number of kisses?

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I am French and I never thought of which cheek should be first kissed! I don't think there is a definite rule. The protocol I identified is:

  • first protagonist tends his or her cheek (left or right)
  • second protagonist adapts and tends the same cheek.
  • if it fails, both smile or laugh and the procedure starts again

As for the number of kisses, when people don't know each other's habit:

  • one protagonist thinks it's enough and starts to stop the game
  • the other one goes on playing
  • both smile saying something about regional differences
  • then they agree on either the short or long protocol
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it sounds very analytical, almost robotic, but this is the exact process indeed. I can tell that when you have half your family giving 2 kisses, the other half 3, you smile a lot when you visit them :) – Vince Mar 29 '13 at 17:43
I agree with this answer, and let me also add that I have southern-Italian roots. There is no "protocol" about it – Noldor130884 Jun 29 at 5:50

Cheek kissing - Wikipedia and How to air kiss - Wikihow gives conventions about kissing in diffrent countries, precising it's often the right cheek first.
("Air" kiss because your lips don't actually go on the cheek, it's more cheek-on-cheek and you make the noise with your lips.)

Only for France, gives stats for each department about the number of kisses, and which cheek to give first (droite = right, gauche = left).
One can see that it's more often the left cheek in the south and the right one in the north.
(If you click on a department they ask you for the kiss count, which cheek goes first, your gender and which gender you kiss when you don't know the person.)

(There is also only for the number of kisses, but more voters.)

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I talked about Wiki article on the question, it only appears information (of which cheek should be kissed first) of a few countries. Wikihow is not completely right information when saying Italy is right cheek first (maybe in the north). But, French website is amazing! And French culture too complicated. Thank you! – machlas Mar 30 '13 at 13:48

In the countries of the Levant (especially Lebanon, Syria, Jordan), cheek kissing is quite common. Depending on the situation, it might not be appropriate to cheek-kiss a member of the opposite sex.

However, in some areas such as the coastal part of Syria and most of Lebanon, or in case you're close friends or relatives, it's also common to cheek-kiss a member of the opposite sex.

The Lebanese cheek-kiss is performed by touching the cheeks and kissing the air. Starting with the left cheek, the right cheek, and ending with the left cheek, totaling 3 kisses.

The Syrian cheek-kiss starts on the right side, then the left side, in the last kiss that ends on the right cheek, a single more emphasized air-kiss or a double air-kiss is performed.

Update: Answering the question in your comment is not as easy to answer as one would think. As you probably have noticed in my answer, cheek kissing is common in places that were under the French mandate. In Lebanon the kissing starts on the left side. In Syria, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, the kissing starts on the right side.

Just keep in mind that the cheek-kissing isn't very deep in the Arab culture, so most people won't be offended if you start on the wrong cheek, you can consider it an ice breaker.

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@HaLaBi Unfortunately, I don't have enough information about other Arab countries when it comes to cheek kissing. Feel free do edit the answer and include the ones you know. – Adnan Mar 29 '13 at 21:50
@Adnan Thank you for the information, anyway I was focused just in which cheek starts. Is it left-cheek first in all Middle East countries? (also for @HaLaBi) – machlas Mar 30 '13 at 13:57
@machlas I've corrected my answer regarding Syria, I've also tried to answer your comment. – Adnan Mar 31 '13 at 7:45

In Jordan cheek kissing always starts on the right cheek and moves to the left.

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In the Netherlands, it's exactly 3 kisses, starting with the right cheek. Not between men.

As a man, it's absolutely not done to cheek kiss a woman who'd rather not, so you take a tiny bit of initiative and then see if the movement is continued, otherwise just shake hands. When in doubt, just shaking hands is always fine as well.

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