Tour France: How to Kiss, French Style…
I know what you’re thinking….You think this is about sex or making out or something really really inappropriate. But, it isn’t. The national form of greeting people in France is “the kiss”. The friendly sign off in letters and emails is the “kiss” (“bisous”, and the less formal “biz”).
Like the American handshake it has so many varieties and forms that it is essentially its own language. Remember, in handshakes there is the firm shake, the light grasp, the fist pump, the hand slap, even entire routines that indicate you are ‘part of’ a social group. See what I mean? If there wasn’t such a nuanced meaning, then why on Earth would one of our own esteemed presidential candidates have had to explain his inability to ‘shake’ hands (Remember Bob Dole and his war injury)? So, maybe now, you are thinking that this is really a valid language, not just an affectation. (Even our current president does it…when in Rome (or Paris…as the saying goes.)
In France, the fact of a kiss, and then the number of kisses you give and receive at any one time indicates your level of friendship and your region. It has nothing to do with men and women or sexuality whatsoever.
Here’s how it goes..It is a “kiss” not a full body hug. In the U.S. if you are close enough to kiss, you are also hugging the person –whether it’s your child or your partner or your mother. In France, it is just the “kiss” and a light hand on the shoulder or arm. It is not an embrace(unless you are an American whose daughter is super happy to be in Paris –then it better be the full embrace!)
If you “get a kiss” (peck on the cheek) in France, that is an indication you know each other. One cheek means you know each other. Two means you are good friends or close in some way. But, that’s just in Paris. In Provence, two kisses, one on each cheek, means you know each other. Three means you are close. Four is atypical –unless you are in the very South or on the islands. Where four is the thing to do…Now, here’s where it gets complicated.
If you kiss once, but the other person thinks you are close, then you rebuffed someone. If you go in for the 2nd, or 3rd kiss, and the person you are greeting doesn’t reciprocate, you have been told that the feeling isn’t mutual and you are over reaching. Or, of course, you are greeting a Parisian, and think they are Provencal…Or you are geographically confused in some way.
As the holidays approach and we do more and more greeting, it’s important to understand what these greetings signify. Like most things in life, practice makes perfect…So, come to France and kiss someone! Consider it your holiday sport…And you don’t even need mistletoe!
Bisous from Wendy at Bliss Travels!