Never let it be said that in order to catch the eye of a new audience the eponymous double entendre should never been underplayed. I’ll wager some readers, after reading the title will be anticipating something edgy, and are sinking into a comfy chair right now.
Sorry to disappoint.
My remit here is to unfold the mystery of the French custom of kissing. The heartbeat of French of life, it confounds most of us who hail from the UK. Kiss we may do, but it has its place. A bit like cleaning your shoes or worming the cat, Britons fear the P(ublic)D(isplay of).A(affection)
I sense the readership may evolve into an authority, claiming prior, even superior knowledge here, like a Mastermind contestant, or Ann Robinson. I know nothing about it, despite living in France for six years, I remain a novice, and the inherent etiquette for me has taken on the mantle of a Dark Art.
Dare I speak for the majority and venture that we exude a national dread when faced with a French stranger? Is the angst Freudian? Possibly. Do we hate kissing strangers? Maybe. Do we only want to kiss the people we fancy? Definitely. Would we like some guidelines? Absolutely.
So,on with the show with a few suggestions based on observation, with no scientific back up whatsoever.
Little ones present few problems. Once on the cheek is the norm, even if you don’t know them, allowing them to go off and erase the memory of grey whiskers and halitosis from their impressionable minds. That said, school for them must be a logistic nightmare. The reason school starts early and finishes late is simple: They’re all kissing each other and lessons are slotted in between. However, it does give teenagers respite from texting.
The family unit kiss often. So they should, it’s the rules, like arguing over the washing up. The form is to kiss on rising and last thing at night. If you slope off for an hour or two to the hairdressers, supplementary kisses on return are not the thing. However, visiting family must always be liberally smothered with kisses, whatever the time. In an average household of five, a visit of another five relatives could mean an exchange of a hundred kisses. It’s possible to read the first three chapters of Pride and Prejudice or re hang a door in the time all this affection takes place.
Kissing habits amongst friends could take the form of an academic paper of around twenty thousand words, but as space doesn’t permit, brevity reigns. Broadly there is the two, three and four kiss approach, largely dependant on geographical location, age and whether there’s and “R” in the month. The sun seems to have an incremental effect also. More sun, more kissing. Happy days. Best advice here is to stand well back in the meet and greet queue at community gatherings with friends, or offer to get the first round of drinks in at the buvette . Watch and learn from the masters, and you’ll soon be a pro.
The workplace can be a minefield. Take a two-pronged attack and adopt evasive manoeuvres such as frequent visits to the toilet or hiding in the stationery cupboard. Work colleagues assure me that it is fine if you want to opt out on kissing, but you have to make your feelings clear. “Please don’t kiss me, I don’t want you to,” (loosely translated) has a real team player ring to it don’t you think? You can guarantee there will be no surprise birthday parties after that one liner.
So much has been left unsaid, but if there is a way to conclude this musing let it be this: Whilst we may dither as we feel ourselves on shaky ground, there are definitely upsides to this custom.
It is a privilege to see the teacher in the school doorway every morning kissing each child as they enter school for the day.
Similarly it is an honour to go to a local event with strangers, sit alongside them during the evening and to be surprised by an affectionate kiss on parting company.
It is the omnipresent celebration that our French friends and neighbours employ to transmit the message that life is indeed a celebration and must be shared with those around us.
So vive le bisou, and all its attendant quirks. If your next brief encounter ends in a head butt or lipstick smeared over your nose, laugh, try again and enjoy. It’s what life’s all about.