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Transatlantic Texting: The Kissing Conundrum

By Hannah Sole | Miscellaneous | October 8, 2018 |

By Hannah Sole | Miscellaneous | October 8, 2018 |


This is a public service announcement on behalf of British English.

Dear American English and Those Who Use It,

We have more in common than we don’t, but sometimes, unexpected differences come from nowhere to surprise us. There have been some entertaining misunderstandings in the past. We could argue and laugh about what we think a rubber is, or how to pronounce aluminium. But I’ve finally cracked the biggest difference between us, and it’s the omission of one letter in particular that I’d like to talk to you about today. No, it’s not the letter U, though that letter is feeling rather sad about why you lot keep leaving it out all the time. What has U ever done to you? Poor U. Look at it, it’s practically a sad face all on its own. But that’s a story for another day. I’m talking about the letter X, specifically the Xs at the end of a text message. These ones:

“See you later! Xx”

Those little Xs right there? Those are kisses. And somehow, the otherwise-emotionally-repressed Brits became effusive kissers in messages. I think we picked it up from our friends on the Continent — the ones who use multiple air kisses to greet each other and say goodbye. We worried about that for a while, and there were some tricky moments at first, when you both go the same way and nearly plant a big smacker on someone’s mouth by mistake. It’s much safer and easier to send them in texts, and so we adopted it with gusto. We send kisses to our family, our friends and our partners. We even send them to some of our co-workers, though probably not on work emails, because that’s a bit awkward, and only if they are co-workers who are also friends. Don’t send them to your boss. Or HR.

Like orderly queues and cricket, there are rules with kisses. The number of kisses is based on the level of closeness and the context of the message. You might send 2 on a regular day, but 3 on a special occasion, or when you need to really emphasise a thank you. You might have a standard number for most of a conversation and then have a different number to ‘sign-off’ and signal the end of a chat. Those little Xs can demonstrate much about the context of the relationship as well as acting like discourse markers. They can anchor the tone of the message, and single-handedly (do kisses have hands? Phrasing?) prevent rows. They are nifty little things.

Kissy textiquette (or Xiquette, if you prefer) relies on a few assumptions: That relationships should be equal, and therefore ideally, the number of kisses is matched, and that it is so normal to send a kiss that if someone doesn’t, that’s not a good sign…

Imagine that you have sent a message to someone to say you’re not feeling great, and you want to cancel/postpone plans to meet up. What is the difference between these replies?

1. OK
2. OK.
3. OK. x
4. OK xx

Nothing? NOTHING? Oh honey, there is a WORLD of difference.

1. This one’s fine. The texter is probably in a hurry. Everything’s OK.
2. That full stop? Ooof. Savage. This person took the time to add punctuation but not a kiss. They are mad at you. They definitely tutted when they got your message. You might need to do some damage control.
3. Two options here: a) they are a little mad at you — that full stop is a disapproving sigh — but they are simultaneously feeling bad about that because you’re not feeling well, and so they soften it with a kiss, like a reassuring afterthought. Or b) they are determined to use punctuation whatever the situation. Either way, you’re probably fine.
4. This is actually properly fine. No problems here.

Intra-British Xiquette uses and understands those rules, which are totally fine and not complicated and all make perfect sense. Until we realise, horror of horrors, that not everybody in the world does this. I had heard a rumour that Americans don’t send Xs, so I checked with the Overlords, thinking surely it can’t be true. No way.


Then everything else seemed to fall into place. I am very sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there is a terrible stereotype of the Rude American, and I think I have cracked it: You don’t mean it! It started with the sorrys, the pleases and the thank-yous and just spiralled from there! Wait, wait, don’t get mad, I know you say sorry, please and thank you, but we really say it. If we’re buying a round of drinks in the pub, what we do is say please and thank you after ordering every single drink, and we also say ‘may I have’ or ‘could I have’ rather than ‘I’ll have’, or ‘can I get’, because those last ones sound a bit demanding, and even though it’s their job to get us a drink, we don’t want to sound too pushy, and so it’s best that we all pretend that they are doing us a very special favour instead. What? You don’t do rounds either? WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING? OH, you tip. Yeah, we don’t. We just sound polite instead. It’s a thing. Sorry.

Text kisses are just an extension of those other politeness markers that are meant to make us sound nice and friendly. They soften bad news. They make asking for a favour seem lovely. They are like textual LOVE YOUs that don’t require you to commit to the L word. They are convenient displays of emotion that don’t require precision of any kind, and aren’t expected to be performed in public. They take no effort, and are reassuringly conventional. They are perfect for us.

In conclusion, if you get a text from a Brit and it has Xs on the end, don’t freak out, we’re not being that weird, and if you reply without any, please note that you may be causing some cold sweats of doom to that person.

Brit: Are you cross? Did I do something wrong? X (Just one x, that’s measured and restrained.)
American: No.

Dear commenters, are you kissy texters? Have you ever been flummoxed by some Xs, or inadvertently made a Brit panic? All of this is true and none of this is weird, right? :) xx

Header Image Source: Getty Images