Recently, I have had some super awkward close encounters en faisant la bise. What is the bise, you ask? It’s an age-old French greeting. The double kiss. You see men in Paris, strutting about, getting off their mopeds and riding their hands through their hair, taking time to be noticed as they slowly bestow a small kiss to their female friends. In fact, men who are very good friends can kiss each other, and they are not considered gay (This may come as a shock to “dudes” in the US, even though they themselves delight slap each other on the butt during sporting events).
Because of the importance of this cultural ritual, I have assembled a “how to,” which can help even the coldest and most unaffectionate American bise like a pro.
When is it appropriate to faire la bise?
When you meet someone formally for the first time, and every time you see them thereafter for the first time in a day. Also, when you are leaving after spending a sufficient amount of time with someone (dinner party, outing, basically any time a hug would be appropriate). No, you do not bise the grocer, nor do you bise your teacher (thank God). But, I do bise my favorite bartender (don’t know if that is a small town exception?).
What do I do with my hands?
If you are just meeting the person, you can keep your hands strictly at your sides, and just lean your head in for the kill. If you know the person, you can gingerly half-hug the person, embracing their shoulders. If you think this sounds awkward, you’re right. It is.
Which side to I start on?
This is a tricky question. I always go to my left, the person’s right cheek. However, tradition depends on the different regions in France. There are also regions, like some areas of the south, where two kisses are insufficient. People feel they must do three, four, or five kisses to show affection. Make a show of it.
Do I actually kiss the person?
No! In fact, you actually PRETEND to kiss someone, by making a kissing sound, but never actually touching your lips to their face. Just cheek touching. May I also note, it is important to keep fair distance when crossing the person’s face. Depending on the length of your nose and the other person’s nez there could be contact. Happened to me last week, safe to say I am a little scarred.
Of course, I am no expert on the bise, because I am foreign. Most people who know I’m American have a “special reaction” when they meet me. First, they stare at me and instantly become very get nervous (does she know what she’s doing?). Generally, they stick their hand out very stiffly, and shake my hand. Some just continue staring, and talk about me as if I don’t speak French (oh she’s American, what is she doing here?). It has begun to become frustrating, as it pins me as the foreign freak. Next time someone does this, I have contemplated teaching them the good ‘ole American bear hug. That’ll really give be a good kick in the fesse!
Questions? Bise horror stories? Laissez-moi un mot! Leave me a comment!