The many subtleties of relationships are a language unto themselves. I have found that these subtleties differ from country to country, from experience. I have also found that I love discovering them or practising them.
In America, I got a charge from the subtle developments in relationships. The first time you can venture an "it's me" on the telephone. The first time the person answering the telephone knows who it is when you say "it's me". The first time you feel inclined to embrace a friend on a regular basis. The first time it seems appropriate to "pop-in" or "stop by" or any other number of cute terms use to describe disturbing someones peace and quiet.
In Switzerland I've learned there is a bit more formality to some of these developments, in some cases, even a ceremony of sorts. When inviting someone to call you "du" and use your first name only when communicating, it is sometimes required to invite this person for a drink or a coffee to discuss this new intimacy. As an American, there have been times when I have inadvertently injured a friend or acquaintance by using the wrong form. (I sometimes forget if we are already "du" and will say my full name on the telephone or say "Sie" by mistake. Sometimes I have seriously noticed offense. Other times I will accidentally "du" someone thinking that they are laid back and young and that I am the same. In Starbucks or at the hairdressers, it's always "du" at the bakery where I am a regular, I can show respect only by saying "Sie".)
In a land where I have kissed strangers three times on the cheek, merely because they are good friends of my husband or a friend of mine, there is a strange subtlety to kissing and a large intimacy in the hug. My best girlfriend and I embrace when we see one another, possibly with a kiss on the cheek, if it has been a long time. My closest male friends and I have a one-cheek-kiss agreement. Somehow this is more intimate than three. I can't explain why. At work, we greet one another with a smile or a wave on a daily basis, but after any absence or holiday, there are three-kisses to be expected. With children that I know well, and who are not my students, I typically offer one-cheek kiss, or a kiss on the top of the head or forehead.
But now, I want a new kiss. I kiss my in-laws three times. I kissed my in-laws three times back when we first met and they were simply the parents of a man I was seeing (and though I was ga-ga about him, the relationship was new and insecure). It's been years that we've kissed one another three times. When we stay together somewhere and I go to bed, I kiss them three times. When they give me a gift or I give them one, it is three kisses. When I go to dinner at their house or they come to mine, it's three kisses. I want something more intimate.
Now I need to decide, what sort of a special kiss do I want with them? They kiss their children quickly on the lips, but I don't want that. That seems more for blood-relations. I could give them a one-cheek kiss, but that is for my friends and children. Perhaps simultaneous nose and chin kisses (I've always loved kissing my sister that way). Also, does their need to be a ceremony? Do I need to invite them to drinks or coffee to propose this new greeting? So many questions.
On the plus side, I don't feel like this is a cultural difference or assimilation problem. The excitement of the prospect of the new kiss feels equal to the excitement of the ringing phone when you intend to say "it's me!" Nevertheless, I know that deciding that, the way I kiss my in-laws, too greatly resembles the way in which I kiss strangers who know the same people I do, seems uniquely European.