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Okay, so I didn’t realize that it’s past midnight! But it still is 18th of August in Mexico. The day Mexican President Felipe Calderón turned 50! Happy birthday, Mr President!

Looking back, I have vivid memories of the day I met President Calderón in Guadalajara (gwah-dah-lah-ha-rah) at the inaugural function of “La Feria Internacional del Libro de Guadalajara,” the second largest international book fair in the world.

It was on the 24th of November, 2007. I was thrilled to get the opportunity of attending the inaugural function of the nine-day book fair which was open only to a selected audience. Just a day before, I was told that the  prestigious book fair was to be inaugurated at the hands of the Mexican president – a first in the fair’s history!

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Besides the Mexican president and his wife, the important dignitaries to be present at the function included the state governor, the country’s leading novelists (including the internationally renowned author Carlos Fuentes) and educationists and the internationally well-known Columbian writer and Mexico City resident, Gabriel García Márquez (known affectionately as Gabo).

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I was glad that I was going to sit in the special enclosure close to the podium. However, there were many early arrivals and I ended up getting a seat in the last row in the special enclosure. But that was a blessing in disguise!

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Here’s a pix of the first lady, Margarita Zavala, on her way to the function.

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When President Calderón entered the hall, he chose to walk his way to the podium right through the passage which separated the last row (where I was seated) of the special enclosure from that of the rest which included other invitees and the press.

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I was naturally thrilled to see the president in such close proximity. And more so, when he caught my eye and gave me a sunny smile. Thanks to my excitement, I could only get this rather blurred photo of the president (left) as he walked by.

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In this photo, you can see President Calderón standing for the national anthem with the first lady, Margarita Zavala (right) and the state governor, Emilio González Márquez (left).

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When it was the President Calderón’s turn to make a speech I was ready with my camera. I had already taken permission from his security staff who allowed me to go close to where he was standing. I was the only lucky person taking photos of the president at close quarters while the press photographers clicked from their enclosure.

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After all the speeches were over, I wanted to take a close-up photo of the president while leaving. So when he walked down the other aisle, I quickly rushed over to that side to stand close enough to do a video recording of him as he approached closer, greeting the organizers standing to the opposite side of me.

And then something happened that I never could have imagined in my wildest dreams. A gentleman standing next to me called out to the president as he neared us. President Calderón immediately came over to our side and shook hands with the gentleman. When he came to my side I too extended my hand and greeted him with a sweet-sounding “Buenas Tardes, Sr Presidente”. Accepting my hand, he greeted “Muy Buenas Tardes” and did something which took me completely by surprise!

President Calderón turned his right cheek to me in an invitation to plant a cheek kiss! I was numbed for a second and almost kept the president waiting! And then, I kissed his proffered cheek.

I guess at that moment I must have caught the attention of almost everyone present in the hall. I was too delighted to look around. What mattered most to me was that the Mexican president had noticed me –  a non-Mexican, who had landed in the country almost three months before – at a public event and… Mexican-kissed me!!!

Like most non-Mexicans who have lived in the country, I too am a fan of the Mexican custom of kissing the right cheek of a woman (or man) in a greeting or goodbye.

Now, if you don’t know about the Mexican custom of cheek kissing, here goes…

Cheek kissing may be lips-to-cheek or cheek-to-cheek with a kiss in the air, the latter being more common. The actual act is usually more a cheek brush than a cheek kiss.

It is not necessary to know a person well or be intimate with them to kiss them on the cheek. Some people, when they are introduced to someone new (especially when they are young, or are being introduced by a close friend) usually greet them with a cheek kiss.

Men don’t kiss each other on the cheek. They usually do a pat on the back kind of hug that is sometimes preceded by a handshake. But men will greet women with a cheek kiss. And women greet both women and men with a cheek kiss.

Just as a man does not reach to shake a woman’s hand, he does not lean in to plant a cheek kiss unless she initiates this and she initiates this by turning her cheek to him in an open invitation. If the person is a complete stranger or outside the social circle, no kissing is done.

That’s it for now! Very soon, I’ll talk about another lovely Mexican custom.

I’ll leave you now with this awesome music: The Storm Enjoy 🙂

Until we meet again…take care 🙂

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