Sunday, November 20, 2011

la bise.


Every day, I lose track of how many people, even strangers, I manage to kiss. Or who kiss me. This doesn't happen in a completely unwarranted or at all promiscuous way. This is simply French culture, one of plenty of particularities that, for any American, take some getting used to. Faire la bise means "to do the kiss", and it's the expression used for this little greeting, done when you first see someone and when you are leaving them. In its simplest form, it is a little peck on each cheek, but depending on the relationship of the kissers or the region they come from or how much wine they've had, there can be as many as four kisses in a single exchange. I'm still working on the rules, and I get it wrong from time to time (which has led to some very awkward situations...). But it is becoming normal for me to kiss just about anyone.

Last night at dinner, I was eating with a group of all French people and I was asked what has been the most difficult thing to adjust to living in France. Before I could even think of something, someone else brought up the bise. He explained to everyone that anglos shake hands when they greet each other, and everyone started laughing! When I threw in that we also hug, they were even more amused! To the French, handshakes are much too formal, and hugging means too much physical contact. Kissing everyone is so normal for the French, but is far too friendly for English-speakers, and it's true that the bise is one thing that I wasn't completely prepared for before coming here, and have had to adjust to!

After that conversation, I've been super aware of the bise. For example, today at the Cathedral, after Mass, I counted that I kissed 5 people whose names I did not know. A few of them introduced themselves in the process (typical protocol for kissing a stranger is that you say your name as you're going in for the kiss), but two of them didn't even do that! So I still don't know their names!

The long and short of it is this. I've gotten used to kissing my friends. I know them, and this is the French way. I'm still getting used to kissing strangers, but it's not completely shocking to me. And I'm starting to worry about coming back to the United States! I'm going to instinctively faire la bise with everyone I see, whether they expect it or not, and it's probably going to be really awkward. Wonderful.

pax christi.

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