I’ve had the same condo in Kuala Lumpur as my home base for almost two years now. It’s right downtown next to Petronas Twin Towers and full of a nice mix of locals and expats. Since pretty much when I first moved in, I’d seen him and we’d say hello to each other. And my neighbour always seemed really nice. Then this November, we started meeting up for a weekly drink.
There’s a swank bar downstairs in our building and it’s my favourite place to write at night. I go down for happy hour with my laptop, pop in headphones for focus, and write non-stop for a couple of hours.
The first time we met for a drink, he and I greeted each other in normal expat style … with cheek-kisses. After living for 12 years in Spain, cheek-kisses are second nature now. However, the first cheek-kiss greeting with my neighbour was extremely uncomfortable but I brushed it off as an accident. His mouth went so close to my mouth that he almost touched my lips! That is NOT normal for cheek-kisses in any country … and especially NOT for people who are acquaintances and not in some kind of intimate relationship.
When we decided to have a regular happy hour meet up, I thought that sounded like a welcome break from my normal non-stop writing. But the cheek-kisses continued in that same cringy way. After a while, I went out of my way to position myself behind a chair or to turn my face more and more but for a little guy he was wiley and always managed to almost touch my lips.
I should mention that he’s in his 70s, an expat from Europe, and looks like a sweet harmless grandpa … which is probably why I let things go on as long as they did. I would NEVER have permitted a younger man to do that to me a 2nd (or third or fourth) time! I would have called him out right then and there with some kind of joke about it. But with my neighbour, I guess his advanced age disarmed my normal instincts.
After it happened a couple times, I mentioned it to the staff at the bar and they sort of laughed and said, “Oh yeah, that’s (name). He does that with all the women here.”
Ewww, come on!
Why It Matters
Luckily, this “Times Up” tale didn’t cost me a job nor is it going to scar me. I do have those #metoo stories and trust me, I prefer this one! But it’s NOT acceptable that women are (serially) forced to be touched in this way because it makes one man feel … what exactly? Dominance? Like he’s being “playful” but at our expense? Naughty like back in the 70s and 80s?
Even brushing it off as, “Oh that’s just (name)” sounds very much like the old “boys will be boys” excuse and that’s definitely not OK in 2019.
So finally after a couple of months, something else he did triggered me and I finally called him out.
How I Told Him #TimesUp
Taking a cowards way out, I used Whatsapp. Knowing him just a little – and having seen him react once when he felt he was being disrespected – I thought my best chance was to 1) Be concise and 2) include the voice of a man in my message. Here’s what I sent:
I need to share one thing. You make women at (the bar) uneasy when you greet us with kisses that almost touch our lips 100% of the time. When you did it to me the 1st time I brushed it off as an accident. But the 2nd time I was so uncomfortable that I mentioned it and others said, “Yeah that’s (name), he does it to all the women.” Infamously, you do this as a rule – and not simply as accidents – and it’s not OK. Try and think of it from our point of view … it feels like you’re taking advantage of us because it’s forced physical intimacy that I’m sure you wouldn’t want a man constantly doing to your daughter or someone you cared for. In case you’re unsure of the difference between improper vs proper cheek-kiss greetings, I found this UK how-to video by The Royal Butlers Etiquette Guide >> https://youtu.be/RZTFAmv2-qQ.
The Royal Butlers Etiquette Guide is the channel created by Grant Harrold, a British Etiquette Expert, Broadcaster, Royal Commentator, Royal aide, and former Butler to HRH Princes Charles & Family. His channel offers amazing tips and I felt that Grant’s voice – as someone who worked for royalty in the UK – would better articulate things because I was sure my neighbour would have brushed off my comments as me misunderstanding or simply that I was wrong (like he did with something else that made me feel uncomfortable recently). The video demonstrates the definitive (globally understood) example for how this style of greeting SHOULD BE executed. Check it out:
Several days have passed and my neighbour did not reply to my message, which is fine … I know he has read it and that’s enough for me. I saw him tonight at the bar and we simply ignored each other. We sit in different areas so that’s easy.
I doubt we’ll ever speak again unless we need to share pleasantries in front of the owner or other regulars. And WOW am I okay with that because at least he doesn’t kiss me anymore … so job done!
I honestly don’t think he’ll 100% change. Sadly he doesn’t fit the profile of someone who’ll become “woke” overnight IMHO. But I do hope with all my heart that The Royal Butler and I made just enough of an impact to save future women in Kuala Lumpur from enduring those inappropriate and unpleasant “almost mouth” kisses…