Tuesday, 15 January 2008
To Bise or Not to Bise
It can be confusing returning to France after having been home in the U.S. for a while. Not because of language confusion or using public transportation again, but for another, rather bizarre and occasionally embarrassing reason.
Back home, upon greeting or departing from someone, we normally give a big hug- no kisses, except for my friend Janet who has always kisses EVERYONE on the lips (she's Greek in origin). Here in France, everyone gives kisses (2 in Paris, and up to 4 in more aggressive regions of France). It is not so much a kiss as it is the pressing of your cheek to someone else's cheek while making a kissing sound in the air. It feels as ridiculous as it sounds, until you get used to it, which may take up to a year. (For someone like me who was truly neither a hugger nor a kisser, I have entered the twilight zone). And for two kisses, your right cheek meets your friend's right cheek on the initial kiss, and the cheeks swap partners, giving the left cheeks a chance to say hello. As intimate as this sounds, there is absolutely no body contact aside from the touching of the cheeks.
Just having returned from hugging country, I attended a meeting in Paris with people from all over the world. I approached a friend I hadn't seen in a while. As he leaned his head forward to do the French "kiss" I "grabbed" him in for a hug. "Damn," I remembered, "I'm in "bise" territory." I quickly released him and continued with the bise. Now I'm afraid he suspects I'm a little amorous, when in fact I'm just culturally confused. Oh, the fun of it all!
*Picture from french.about.com