Intercultural incident? A kiss on the cheek

A Ukrainian reporter caused a scene in Moscow when, as one of a crowd, he asked Will Smith for a hug. WS obliged and gave him a “man hug” (patting him on the back). The reporter responded by trying to give him kisses on both cheeks, almost kissing him on the mouth. Will Smith reacted angrily, by pushing him away,  saying “Come on, man, what the hell is your problem, buddy?” – with a backhand slap.

I’m not sure this incident was really an issue of intercultural miscommunication, or if it was, whether it was about national cultures. Some instances of kissing are – note scenario 6 in this excellent list of everyday intercultural incidents (link) – but here the reporter himself admits to “wanting to make an impression”. That would suggest that he in fact intentionally overstepped certain understood, acknowledged boundaries. He simply misjudged what his provocation would lead to. 15 minutes of fame for the otherwise nameless “kissy reporter”:

Will Smith’s take:

The reporter apologizes and explains:

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Teaching English for business communication skills, writing online for learners, translating, sailing whenever I can, from Washington, D.C.

5 thoughts on “Intercultural incident? A kiss on the cheek”

  1. Will Smith strikes me as being a loud-mouthed jerk. I’ve never seen any of his films – don’t think I need to. He could do with a little training and understanding that the world doesn’t end on his front door. As for the Russian reporter, oh well, if he got a little publicity through this, good for him.

    Cheers, Jx

  2. Thought I’d deleted my ‘spur of the moment’ reaction.
    Oh, well, too late. But, yes, I agree with Evan – a very good example of the things that happen between cultures.

  3. I like your spur of the moment reaction, Joan, it’s completely authentic and to my mind that’s one of the key skills in intercultural awareness, knowing what you feel, and then in a second step, taking a look at it. I think it’s wrong to overrationalze and hide behind what we feel is correct, that messes things up.
    The more I think about this, the more layers I see, because as the reporter says in the interview, he was trying to kiss Will Smith the way WS kissed David Letterman, presumably on the show. So massive confusion, I’d say, about relationships and power roles in general, and between reporters and stars in specific media situations in particular. He may be a star in Ukraine, but he’s turned himself into Mr. Kissy Reporter on US television, which is certainly not the cultural standard… but who likes to be ridiculed anyplace? You never know, maybe this does work for him, maybe it does pay off to be noticed. I mean, if he tries to get a second interview with Will Smith, who’s to say how WS decides. At the moment though I’d say his chances of getting interviews in Hollywood have bottomed out.

  4. Good analysis, Anne.

    And yes, the reporter’s Ukrainian not Russian – though the importance of that lies in his background – which of the two it is and not in the nationality.

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