Friday, April 24, 2009

How to kiss a total stranger

When I arrived in France one of the hardest challenges was mastering the art of the bisous, the cheek kisses. I watched other people and tried to understand out the rules, but just could not figure out who to kiss, when to kiss, which cheek to kiss first, whether it was one, two, three or four kisses...

Now it's actually become second nature and it feels odd when we see other Americans and don't give bisous.

Here are some guidelines for the art that is the bisous.

1. Who?
Girls give bisous to both girls and guys.
Guys give bisous to girls, but generally only to very close guy friends or family members.

2. When?
When you meet someone and say hello in a social context and then again when you say goodbye. Make the rounds, giving bisous to everyone, rather than giving a big American "see you all later" wave to the whole room as you go.
Tip: If you wear glasses, it's polite to take them off with one hand and hold them out to the side while giving bisous, especially if the person you're about to kiss is wearing them too!
3. How many?
This is really the only tricky part because it varies depending on where you are in France. But if you've got the mental capacity to remember where you are, you've got the capacity to remember how many.

(c) Strange Maps

In Lyon, you give one on each cheek. In the Paris area, four is the lucky number. (That's two on each cheek, not back-forth-back-forth-back-forth-back-forth. Don't be silly.)

4. Which cheek first?
After much observing, I could NOT figure out the rule determining whether you start left or right. And then someone told me there is no rule. You just go with what feels most natural, like when you give a hug. You don't plan a side - you just do it. And yes, even French people occasionally have an awkward oops-we-both-went-the-same-direction moments.
Tip: When giving someone's cheek a kiss, you can place a hand lightly on their shoulder if you know them well. Think of it as a hug-kiss combo package.
5. Bonus
The word bisous is pronounced bee-zooh. If you are giving someone cheek kisses, it's called se faire la bise.

There. Now you're all set to go practice in the mirror.

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