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!