Sunday, March 20, 2011

The 5 W’s of kissing à la française

A general rule of thumb: if two people tutoient each other (address each other with the familiar tu instead of the more formal vous), faire la bise is in order. When in doubt, a handshake probably won’t ruffle any feathers.
Treating us to a map showing how many pecks on the cheek (1, 2, 3, 4, or more) to give in which region of France, Canada's Maria Foley gives a rundown of the five W's of France's kissing culture
The first time I moved to France, as a teenager, I was blissfully unaware of the seismic cultural shifts that were in store for me. …

One day I was in town doing some shopping when I spied a girl I’d met at a party the previous week. “Salut, Thérèse,” I called out, waving happily.

She looked at me blankly for a second before smiling politely in recognition. "La Canadienne," she murmured, leaning close, and closer, and then -- just as I started wondering if she was going to whisper in my ear -- kissing me on the cheek. Twice.

My first French kiss. I can still feel the shock.

Many years later, the double kiss would become a standard greeting between my friends and me. But at that time, being kissed by another girl -- and a stranger at that -- was not something I was used to.

What I didn’t realise is that, to the French, la bise is not really a kiss. Not the way we Anglos define it, anyway. There’s nothing remotely sexual about it, any more than a hearty handshake could be construed as "holding hands".

Knowing something and being comfortable with it, however, are sometimes very different things.