Have you ever received a text or email that closed with, “Xoxo” or “Xo” or “xoxoxoxoxox”?

The x’s and o’s mean “kisses” (x) and “hugs” (o). Xox is an informal way to end a message to a close friend or family member. The amount of X’s and O’s is up to you.

This informal way of signing off has been around for a long time but has become especially popular with email and (SMS) texts.

Still, there are cultural differences between “kisses” and “hugs” that are good to be aware of. The differences in writing are a reflection of the way the two are perceived in person.

In French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, giving “bisoux,” “besos,” “bacci,” and “beijos” (all “kisses”) are warm and natural ways to greet or say goodbye to friends, spouses, and family.

This is done with the “air kiss,” a light kiss on the side of one cheek or both cheeks – though, of course, not during a global pandemic.

“Kissing” and “kisses” in the US and other northern countries, however, are generally considered more intimate and physical. Instead, Americans are a nation of huggers.

So, “kisses” in one culture might equal “hugs” in others – but you need to know which is which.

Any American receiving a friend’s note ending with “a thousand big kisses” (common in Spanish) might think, “Wow! Are we more than just friends?”

A good substitute for “kisses” over the phone is “Love you!” (casual) or “Love ya,” (more casual). For more feeling, you can add, “I”: “I love you!”

Wishing you a safe and happy Valentine’s Day, filled with love, xoxox, kisses, and hugs.