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The French Bises
I’m living in Paris and I am not French, still as the saying goes : “In Rome behave as a Roman”, I respect the French tradition of the Bises (a sort of a kiss on each cheek, not to be confused with the other kind known as “French kiss”), when one meets friends, acquaintances as well as total strangers (if they are presented by the other two above mentioned).  My problem is not with this tradition, but more in the way it is sometimes performed. Most of the time, especially with people one knows reasonably well, this is nothing more than a good shake of the hand (also the kiss is more a quick contact between the cheeks), while at other times, especially if it involves people you see rarely that belong to the masculine sex and have a weakness for women, it is quite unpleasant as they take the advantage to feel and enjoy the contact of their lips on your cheek, and that’s what upsets me. I’m not here to give pleasure to anyone while saying hello, I would like them to respect the fact that I just want to say hello.

First, as I know that there are a few French people on this site, I would like to know what do you think about my observations and second, would it be ok to mention this problem and correct the kind of kiss I’m getting from certain people, or will I be looked at as a crazy one? Or, the unpleasant one?

(I should mention that when I meet these people, even if it’s rare, it’s 4 kisses! 2 hello and 2 goodbye!)
Really, the problem of people who use sanctioned physical contact as an excuse for really pushing the envelope is a cross cultural problem. (Except perhaps in Scandinavia?) In many places where you are safe from bises it is still expected that you will hug people, or at the very least not refuse a hug when one is offered, which can be quite unpleasant.

I have often wondered about what can be done in these situations where people, and of course we mean attractive women, are all clustered about to bid goodbye to some aggregious violator of personal space, like sheep being led to slaughter. I think what irritates me most is the fact that one is not really supposed to do anything. The polite thing to do is to bear it. There is a particular kind of cynical undertone in this passivity, something which one finds in places with culture (like France) and is totally foreign to otherwise perfectly well educated people (like Americans). How does one read Proust never having been through these receiving lines? Perhaps something indefinable is missed. Culture has its cost, its small tax skimmed off the top of life.
Dear Chloe,

As a french guy, I can tell you that if it really bothers you to be cheek kissed, you can absolutely mention this problem to the people you meet. When I was a student, I had friends (I mean french girls) who didn't like it much also, especially as you said, when the guy tries to take advantage of the situation. They expressed their desapproval by using humour : "hey, you are going to miss up my make up !" or honest reaction. Smart people will understand. 

When I was 16 yo, I went to live in the USA for one year as an exchange student. At the beginning, I felt really unconfortable with the huges. But I got used to it. I even miss it sometimes when I would really need one :)

The right way to make "bises" is effectively just a cheek contact. No lip's contact. Same for kissing a lady's hand. If you want to do well this old tradition kiss, your lips should only brush the hand, without any kissing movement. Even, with the family members, making the "bise" doesn't involve kissing effectively the cheeks, fortunately !...

If you meet someone who cares a lot for you, someone you are really happy to see again, the bise will be transformed in cheeks kissing. Same thing in America where you won't hug the same way a friend and your chilhood bestfriend you haven't seen for thirteen years.

Saying hello or goodbye must be a simple thing, so if the way some of the people you meet do it, bothers you, just tell them friendly, they should understand. In fact, once again, don't be scared to look crazy, and feel lucky as in the South of France making the bise involved 8 kisses : 4 hello and 4 goodbye :)
Hi everyone,

I just fell on this passage in Montaigne’s Essays (Book III, chapter V) where he describes the French Bise tradition : «  Voyez combien la forme des salutations, qui est particulière à notre nation, abâtardit par sa facilité la grâce des baisers lesquels Socrate dit être si puissants et dangereux  à voler nos coeurs. C’est une déplaisante coutume et injurieuse aux dames, d’avoir à prêter leurs lèvres à quiconques a trois valets à sa suite, pour mal plaisant qu’il soit. »
“Dearness gives relish to the meat. See how much the form of salutation which is peculiar to our nation debases by its facility the charm of kisses, which Socrates says are so powerful and dangerous for stealing our hearts. It is a disagreeable custom, and unfair to the ladies, to have to lend their lips to any man who has three footmen at his heels, however unattractive he may be.”
(All translations by Donald M. Frame)

I wonder if it is the same French Bise that Chloe refers to, or is it a kiss of a different kind? Also, he mentions that it is used in a certain social circle, as a sign of respect to someone’s wealth (and obvious disrespect to the woman’s status).

The next two paragraphs are especially humorous, his quoting of Martial: « A celui-là qui a un nez de chien, d’où pendent des glaçons livides et dont la barbe est raide de gel, je préférerais cent fois baiser le cul... »
“A bluish ice, from nostrils like a dog’s,
Comes hanging down, his beard stiffens and clogs…
A hundred times I’d rather kiss his ass.”

And his personal opinion as a man: « Et nous mêmes n’y gagnons guère : car, comme le monde se voit parti, pour trois belles il nous en faut baiser cinquante laides; et un estomac tendre, comme ceux de mon âge, un mauvais baiser en surpaie un bon. »
“And we ourselves do not gain much by it; for as the world is divided, for three beautiful women we have to kiss fifty ugly ones. And for a tender stomach, as men of my age have, one bad kiss is too high a price for one good one.”
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Latest Post: February 9, 2010 at 2:05 PM
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