(French) Kissing

Never let it be said that in order to catch the eye of a new audience the eponymous double entendre should never been underplayed. I’ll wager some readers, after reading the title will be anticipating something edgy, and are sinking into a comfy chair right now.

Sorry to disappoint.

My remit here is to unfold the mystery of the French custom of kissing. The heartbeat of French of life, it confounds most of us who hail from the UK. Kiss we may do, but it has its place. A bit like cleaning your shoes or worming the cat, Britons fear the P(ublic)D(isplay of).A(affection)

I sense the readership may evolve into an authority, claiming prior, even superior knowledge here, like a Mastermind contestant, or Ann Robinson. I know nothing about it, despite living in France for six years, I remain a novice, and the inherent etiquette for me has taken on the mantle of a Dark Art.
Dare I speak for the majority and venture that we exude a national dread when faced with a French stranger? Is the angst Freudian? Possibly. Do we hate kissing strangers? Maybe. Do we only want to kiss the people we fancy? Definitely. Would we like some guidelines? Absolutely.
So,on with the show with a few suggestions based on observation, with no scientific back up whatsoever.

Children
Little ones present few problems. Once on the cheek is the norm, even if you don’t know them, allowing them to go off and erase the memory of grey whiskers and halitosis from their impressionable minds. That said, school for them must be a logistic nightmare. The reason school starts early and finishes late is simple: They’re all kissing each other and lessons are slotted in between. However, it does give teenagers respite from texting.

Family
The family unit kiss often. So they should, it’s the rules, like arguing over the washing up. The form is to kiss on rising and last thing at night. If you slope off for an hour or two to the hairdressers, supplementary kisses on return are not the thing. However, visiting family must always be liberally smothered with kisses, whatever the time. In an average household of five, a visit of another five relatives could mean an exchange of a hundred kisses. It’s possible to read the first three chapters of Pride and Prejudice or re hang a door in the time all this affection takes place.

Friends
Kissing habits amongst friends could take the form of an academic paper of around twenty thousand words, but as space doesn’t permit, brevity reigns. Broadly there is the two, three and four kiss approach, largely dependant on geographical location, age and whether there’s and “R” in the month. The sun seems to have an incremental effect also. More sun, more kissing. Happy days. Best advice here is to stand well back in the meet and greet queue at community gatherings with friends, or offer to get the first round of drinks in at the buvette . Watch and learn from the masters, and you’ll soon be a pro.

Work Mates
The workplace can be a minefield. Take a two-pronged attack and adopt evasive manoeuvres such as frequent visits to the toilet or hiding in the stationery cupboard. Work colleagues assure me that it is fine if you want to opt out on kissing, but you have to make your feelings clear. “Please don’t kiss me, I don’t want you to,” (loosely translated) has a real team player ring to it don’t you think? You can guarantee there will be no surprise birthday parties after that one liner.

So much has been left unsaid, but if there is a way to conclude this musing let it be this: Whilst we may dither as we feel ourselves on shaky ground, there are definitely upsides to this custom.

It is a privilege to see the teacher in the school doorway every morning kissing each child as they enter school for the day.

Similarly it is an honour to go to a local event with strangers, sit alongside them during the evening and to be surprised by an affectionate kiss on parting company.

It is the omnipresent celebration that our French friends and neighbours employ to transmit the message that life is indeed a celebration and must be shared with those around us.

So vive le bisou, and all its attendant quirks. If your next brief encounter ends in a head butt or lipstick smeared over your nose, laugh, try again and enjoy. It’s what life’s all about.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. The most successful method to avoid getting hopelessly lost in the intricacies of the “bisous” is to move to France in the middle of the Swine Flu crisis. Hardly had we stepped over the threshold of the school portail than than “faisant les bisses” was banned as a measure to control the microbes.
    I find that at the school gates mothers only kiss after a long absence – ie a holiday break, and only a few specific mothers (who have forgotten or defy the swine flu indulge in kissing), and they can be remembered. At coffee mornings mothers who are meeting for the first time kiss, whilst good friends rarely seem to.
    At my husbands office everyone kisses and for heavens sake remember who you’ve already kissed, as twice in one day is too much, yet days blurr into one another and its easy to forget.
    In my workplace, which is more of a depot everyone shakes hands.
    And finally, children seem to make the first move which does simplify things. I am only hugely glad that I live in a two kiss region, because four would wipe me out!

  2. landespyreneesproperties says:

    yes, very difficult with work colleagues. In SW two is the norm but I know a couple of people from Paris who go in for three. Similarly difficult with vouvoying and tutoying. I thought you were supposed to wait until you were tuyoyed. You could wait forever. You have to dive in and try it and see if they respond. Work colleagues ususally tutoye(nt!)

  3. Jean Winter says:

    La Douceur Angevine, the gentle way of life the Loire is noted for, we go for 4 kisses here and have to remember when to stop elsewhere!

  4. Perry Taylor says:

    Bonjour!
    I saw your blog in “A taste of Garlic” and wondered if you would be interested in contributing to our new online magazine TIENS ! Le Sud-Ouest de la France.

    Here’s the address to the home page: http://websitetiensmagazine.dutchgiraffe.fr/ through which you can link to the magazine.

    For more information, please contact me.
    Kind regards,
    Perry Taylor

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