Quick, name that singer!! You know you’ve reached a certain age if you read the title and immediately started singing it.
This post isn’t about that song, however. It’s a throwback from my time living and teaching in France and is actually about kissing.
Kiss Me Once, Kiss Me Twice, Kiss Me Deadly
Originally Posted February 22, 2009
Remember that chain email that asked all sorts of silly questions about your preferences like “Chocolate or Vanilla,” “Coke or Pepsi,” “Kisses or Hugs?”
I’m not sure about the answers for the first two but undoubtedly if you are French, the third one was “Kisses” hands down. (arms down too, yar)
Greetings: American v. French
In America we shake hands for hello or we give hugs to our friends to say hello or good bye (we even sometimes hug people we’ve just met–if we like them ;)) and when I was in Japan I gave up the handshaking and hugging in favor of bowing and some weird slow motion high-five kind of touch. And here in France I have yet another greeting to get used to: kiss-greetings or le bise. A bise is not really a kiss. It’s sort of an air-kiss-while-brushing-cheeks gesture. The cheeks might touch but the lips never do so make sure you turn just a little–like you’re aiming for an ear.
Admittedly, I’ve been here a while so I’m pretty much used to it but I still have a few unanswered questions. There is more to it than you would think (or maybe I just need some medication to control my HAD [Hyper Analysis Disorder]).
What Is This Bise I Hear Of?
At first I was confused. When do you bise? Who do you bise? Do you bise when you first meet someone? What about after you’ve met and spent an enjoyable evening together? (like a friend of a friend or something). And, when you are with other foreigners, do you scrap your old customary hugs because you are in France and go in for a bise?
When Do You Bise?
Over the months, I’ve come up with a few answers: you can bise friends and colleagues (but not if you don’t like them, have never talked to them, etc.). You generally only bise colleagues after a long absence (say, after winter vacation…so not on a daily basis. No one would ever get any work done, they’d be busy rubbing faces for half the morning.) If you are with other foreigners who don’t bise but hug (Brits, Americans…) for goodness sakes, don’t bise!!! Take your hugs where you can get them! You can bise someone you’ve just met at the end of the night if you like them and they are not creepy. hehe.
Can You Feel a Bise?
Something I have not yet mastered: the bise feeling. My radar is not finely attuned enough to tell when/if someone wants a bise good bye or not or if they are just waiting for me to make the first move. This is complicated somewhat I think because I’m an American and a lot of French people know that Americans are huggers and probably have their own ideas of what your bise hang-ups might be.
To further complicate matters, there are different kinds of bise greetings depending on where you live. For instance, in Montpellier, the standard is three kisses: left, right, left (or right, left, right….I can never remember which way it goes or if it even matters); but in Beziers, its just two kisses–one on each cheek. So you have to be cognizant of where you are when you bise also!
A Riddle For You
This brings me to my last question: If you live in Montpellier and see someone in Beziers who also lives in Montpellier, do you bise three times (because you are both Montpellierians?) or do you bise only twice (because you are in Beziers?)
One Final Note
Even though ‘when in Rome, blah blah blah’ I am still trying to hold tight to my hugs. If you are ever in France and someone with a bad cold/cough/acne/stench moves in close for a bise, you’ll quickly begin to appreciate that extra little bit of personal space a hug affords.
x O x O,
Edit, June 28, 2018:
I’ve changed my tune! Sometimes a tight hug is over the top and a bise is the perfect amount of contact for a quick greeting. Over the years I’ve been increasingly bise-ing right here in the U S of A. It all depends on my mood I guess. What’s your preference??
P.S. That song? It’s Lita Ford! A free can of Aquanet hairspray if you knew that.