Cheek Pinching in India

The first time it happened to me was during my first week in India, I found myself in a state of shock! Someone I have never met before reached over, grabbed my cheek and pulled it around. When my little sister (who was eleven at the time), came to India for our wedding, her cheeks were red raw after all the aunties got their hands on her. In India cheek pinching is seen as a sign of affection, but when a stranger starts to pinch I can’t help but consider it as an invasion of personal space.

In general, concept of personal space in India is completely different from mine (not knocking before entering a bedroom for example). It doesn’t happen to me very often (thankfully), but I see it happen all the time to children and babies. They have as much right to personal space as adult do. Cute children and chubby babies must have really sore cheeks at the end of every day! I think in the future, I am going to have a real problem if people do this to any children we may have. It hurts! In the culture I’m from, touching a someone’s face or child without permission is seriously not okay, let alone pinching (ouch). I don’t think anyone actually likes having their cheeks pinched! Do they?

cheek pinching in india

What inspired this post? A couple of nights ago I was waiting for my husband, sat in the car with Alfonso. I had the window rolled down and was looking up at the sky, deep in thought. A girl appeared, reached into the car and pinched my cheek so hard as she squealed “oh my God, you are soooooo cuteeeeeee”. A couple of seconds later, after the event had fully sunk in, I asked her how old she was. She was twelve. The little girl then went on to ask me the same questions everyone in India usually asks me when they come from nowhere and start up a conversation:

  • What are you doing here?
  • Where is your husband?
  • Where are you from?
  • Will you come to my house?
  • Where do you live?
  • Where exactly in Nagpur do you live?
  • What is your surname?
  • Can you speak Hindi?
  • Can you speak Marathi?

Once I had answered the usual questions sufficiently, she asked me if I would buy her “something special from London”. I was taken aback at this, my cheek still hurting. She was a really sweet and confident little girl, I enjoyed our conversation until she started asking for me to buy her something. Curiously I asked, “what special thing did you want?”. She answered, “a watch”.

Cheek pinching is meant to be a sign of affection, but ouch, it hurts. I don’t think India’s cheek pinching obsession will go away anytime soon, even my loving husband is guilty of it!

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48 thoughts on “Cheek Pinching in India

  1. Oh girl, don’t get me started on those who don’t knock on a closed door! My husband’s family even does it with the bathroom door. You will be in for a shock if you forget to lock that door – it’s so annoying!!! Can’t believe that little girl just came up and grabbed your face and gotta love how they demand gifts – rude!!

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  2. Good post Lauren. I’m almost like you here, but to a larger extent. I am intolerant to people who invades my personal space.

    As for the cheek pinching, I dislike this and I believe this is not as harmless as some people might think. Firstly, cheek pinching leaves red blotchy marks and if your skin is oversensitive like mine, they may remain on the face for a longer time frame. Secondly, intensive pinching can break the capillaries in your skin. Those marks are hard to remove manually and later theraphy is painful and expensive process. Thirdly, hygiene of hands is the other reason why someone would not like to be touched on his or her face. Who knows what the person did with her or his hands before approaching you for a pinch,

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  3. “I think in the future, I am going to have a real problem if people do this to any children we may have” – I thought like this too, but eventually I just let it go. All my three kids were pinched. Fortunately, it’s never as hard as you described – may be the intensity of pinches is lower in Mumbai ? 🙂

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  4. I’ll be honest, my friends children were traumatized by the cheek pinching during their two trips to India. We are looking at a trip to the golden triangle and I worry the most about this. My friend’s daughter still talks about it -the pinch left a bruise on her cheek!!!! Can I tell them to keep away? seriously. or stand in front of my child?

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    • Oh no, that is completely awful! So sorry to hear that!
      It’s such a shame that people have to do that!!

      I guess you’ll have to be hypervigilant and firm when people approach you. Enjoy your trip to the golden triangle! So fabulous! xx

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  5. Lauren I have been reading your posts for a very long time and loving it. Keep discovering Indian culture and as an Indian I too am discovering it still. I dont remember how I came across them. But felt I had to comment on this one. The concept of personal space as you say is non-existant in India. But it depends a lot on the upbringing,those who have been brought up here may not think too much about it. You would surprised that me and my neighbours would keep our doors open the whole day.Anybody could walk in to anybody’s house freely without any hesitation.When it was time to sleep the family who first wanted sleep would let the others know that now they are closing the doors so if they wanted they could close theirs too. If you are staying in a housing society then most probably the whole society celebrates all the festivals together. Its like one big family. I would not have it any other way. But I would not go ahead and pinch somebodys cheek but would not mind somebody pulling my cheek. Take care and lots of love to you both.

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    • Hey Sohan,

      Lovely to meet you! Thank you so much for your kind words!!
      You’re right, I have come across people who do respect personal space but majority don’t really understand it.

      We are going to be moving to a society soon, just my husband and I, and I am really excited about the festivals! Should be wonderful!!

      Thank you so much again for your lovely comment!! Big hug and lots of love xx

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  6. I actually get irritated if people pinch my kids cheeks and many times I pinch them back and ask them how did they like it. They are usually left in shock! 🙂 My kids also hate when people pinch their cheeks. When I am out with a baby, I even learned to prevent it and stop the hands that are moving towards my baby’s cheeks halfway.

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  7. Fair and rosy cheeks have their own disadvantages 🙂
    Yes, it is culturally different but I am also not a strong advocate of this practice.
    At times it shocks kids when their facial skin is stretched and they fail to react.
    When I am outside with my kids, I and my wife are cautious that they are not touched and patted unnecessary.

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  8. Ouch! One of my aunts used to pinch my cheeks and I hated it. I also dislike anyone touching our baby and will turn away or try to stop it if I’m on the ball. It’s tough though. I didn’t realize how babies are often seen as public property!

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    • It’s quite crazy isn’t it, but they are seen as public property by many people!! I guess it’s like when you’re pregnant and people think it’s okay to touch your baby bump without asking! xx

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      • Yes! That can be awful. I thankfully didn’t experience that. Perhaps I exuded an aura that screamed, “Hands off!” or “Don’t touch my triangle!” Have you seen a lot of baby bumps being touched in India or the UK?

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      • Really! Do you happen to know about when women stay home when they are pregnant? Is this a cultural expectation or something else? I’m so curious… When I dropped into my workplace to pick up the last of my stuff, I happened to see one of my students who, without hesitation, exclaimed how HUGE I was. he he he! She was right but it also reminded me of the gloriously lacking social filters of students of a certain age. 😀 (And at that point, I still had a couple of months to go!!!)

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      • Hey Hilary,

        I think its a for safety? I am not really sure, further investigation needed lol. Haha, that reminds me of a comment I recently got “you are married with no child, are you using family planning?”

        Arggghhh xx

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      • Oh no! I’m not sure whether that’s worthy of a laugh or a cry. I understand the constant asking but it’s sure annoying being on the receiving end of comments about the lack of baby or the lack of follow-up baby (or babies). ! And yes! I’d love to know more about local traditions around babies and staying indoors. I was pretty horrified about women staying at home and staying put after giving birth in Japan years ago. Of course, many women died unnecessarily. Yikes!

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  9. @Lauren

    It was rather inappropriate for that little girl to pinch you cheeks. I have never seen or heard someone younger pinching the cheek of someone older given the strict age hierarchy in our society. Must say that kids are becoming bold these days. She perhaps wanted to check whether you are human and not a life size barbie doll. Children in India were taken care by members of joint family or the village, more like public property. Even now, children are well accepted in public spaces while I have heard that western societies are bit for formal about it.

    About privacy, privacy has negative connotations in Indian culture. It is as if you are trying to crave out your individual space from the common space or deliberately trying to alienate yourself from the rest of the family. We never had separate rooms in our childhood. We slept with our siblings or parents. Out clothes and books jostled for space in the cupboard or our parents. Children had nothing personal.

    In India, young people get their furniture and room only after marriage when they really “need” a separate room, that too very reluctantly. That is why the most important item of dowry is bed. Sex is necessary for procreation and for that privacy is necessary. If procreation was possible without sex, we would have probably banned sex a long time ago, given our extreme aversion for all things sexual LOL. There are also other things which are ‘tolerated’ because these are normal, but not talked about openly.

    I recently saw a tv programme on women’s monthly problems in India and how lack of proper facilities in rural areas result in death by infections. There were lot of school girls also in the discussion, which was refreshing. They stressed on the need to educate everyone boys, girls, fathers etc. about it as a natural process and not to be ashamed about. I was overjoyed to think that attitudes are changing and more such discussions need to be organized.

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    • Hey Friend,

      I hope you are well!

      I am guessing that it’s because I am a foreigner and normal rules may not apply! Awww, definitely wasn’t looking like a barbie doll :P. Your comments always make me smile!

      I’m so glad that slowly India is opening up about all things reproduction, it’s really necessary now. Men should know about periods and such and it shouldn’t be considered a taboo! Let’s pray for the increasing change!!

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  10. This is so similar to China. Nobody has ever pinched my cheeks, but people love to do that with babies and little children! And they love to touch their hands. We often can’t say “please don’t touch his hands, he’s putting them into his mouth all the time and he might easily pick up germs that way” fast enough. My Chinese husband is not a fan of all the touching himself. It’s not usually a problem if family members touch his hands, but it is a problem for us if complete strangers do that. We’ve been happy that for the last few months it’s been very cold here and we could have our baby wear more clothes outside, including gloves. It has helped keep people away.

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    • Hey Ruth!

      I hope you are your family are well! It’s good you can say it openly! Nice to see the different cultural nuances! Maybe he needs mittens all year round hehe.
      Sending you all lots of love,

      Lauren xx

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  11. This post made me laugh. I witnessed a lot of cheek pinching when I lived in Turkey. I never had a stranger pinch my cheeks, but it always seems to be open season on children’s cheeks. It sounds like the pinching is even more prevalent in India!

    In general, I noticed that people were much more likely to hug, kiss, and pinch the cheeks of strangers’ children without permission as compared to the US. That would not go over well in the States! How is that in India? Is it socially acceptable to touch a stranger’s child?

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  12. I used to hate having my cheeks pulled and pinched as a child but of course protesting meant that I was ‘being rude’!
    I would definitely frown at any youngster attempting to pull my cheeks! You would be well within your rights to admonish her if that happens again!

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    • Hey Roshni,

      It’s not nice is it, I don’t know anyone who does like it- so I don’t really know why people do it. I really don’t mine being rude if it saves me from injury, just this little girl caught me really off guard!

      I hope you are well! xx

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  13. My daughter is obsessed with cheek pinching….and she does it so hard too! No doubt if we ever meet, she may reach for your cheeks 😉 hahaha
    Clearly she has learned this cheek pinching from her father or grandma LOL

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  14. My male mind, as well as my American mode of thinking, immediately imagines a different kind of cheek pinching when I read the title. HAHAHAHAHAHA… 😀

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  15. I had a hard time,for a while,at school with all the cheek pinching. It was a convent school and many of the nuns did it, particularly the head sister….almost everyday after the school assembly. I was so happy when she got transferred elsewhere.

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  16. I love it when someone pinches my cheeks. I know they found me cute and I can feel their affection. I can totally understand why you feel that your personal space is being invaded. 🙂
    But when it comes to entering my bedroom without knocking the door, it makes me furious. It was really hard to get my parents understand how bad it is to do so. I finally got my Dad into the habit of knocking before he entered my room, but Mom, no!!! She is too proud to knock!

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  17. Would it be wrong for me to say I like getting my cheeks pinched? The only strangers I would allow to pinch my cheeks are friends of my aunts. I grew up with affectionate relatives and not once has anyone pinch my cheeks hard. I come from a Puerto Rican family,so I guess you can say they are cheek pinchers. What I find embarrassing is the lipstick kisses they leave behind lol. Always leaving with at least half a dozen or more kiss marks all over my face. I’d say, perhaps asking them to pinch softer. As a kid I didn’t like it, but as soon as I turn 10 I started liking the affection.

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    • Haha, not wrong at all! I am glad that someone does 😀
      It seems you got used to it, I must say, I am too!

      It’s rare for me to see lipstick in his part of India so missed out on that 😀

      I hope you are well! 😀

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      • I am very well, hope you are going good as well.

        Well, I knew I had to get use to it. I have siblings and I’m the oldest. The thing is they don’t get their cheeks pinched, one of the reason is they look older than me. I have been blessed and cursed by having a ‘baby face’ lol so me being 28 with a round face and round cheeks I actually look like I’m between 18-22. My baby face isn’t going anywhere for awhile so why not embrace it and enjoy the affection.

        Have a Happy Holiday/Christmas

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  18. Pingback: Happy New Year! 2016 - English Wife Indian Life

  19. Oh I never heard of family members having to knock on your door before they go inside…I mean with friends or someone visiting you then it’s polite to knock except the friends you’re so close with. Sorry but I just think having to knock on your family member’s door/the people you are living with is too formal. I guess our culture is just different from yours. I’m not from India anyways but just like India and many countries for sure…knocking would be too formal (with your own family) I understand that you are not fond of cheek pinching! I don’t like it being done on me too! Anyway thanks for this article and sharing your stories! It’s good learning something about india and indian culture!

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    • Hey Anna!
      Yess, the culture is very different. No right or wrong but we have to communicate with each other so we know what we are personally comfortable with when living in a mixed family! 😀 Hoping you are well 😀 xx

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