Perfecting the Customary Kiss in France

Kiss in France

foreign-correspondent badge finalI missed the cheek and accidentally kissed someone on the mouth the first time I was in France. I never quite figured out if you were supposed to go for the right side or the left side first.

While volunteering on an organic strawberry farm up in the mountains in Corsica, I wanted to be as French as possible. Myself, along with the other volunteers, were entranced by the custom of the double cheek kisses as a greeting, and picked it up while we were there. We wanted to feel more French by kissing as the French do.

I find the custom of kissing people on both cheeks a lovely custom, in contrast to kissing (only) my close friends hello or good-bye in the United States or England. While living in a place where kissing strangers, acquaintances, and neighbors–along with your friends–on the cheek is the cultural norm, it becomes somehow simultaneously more sexy and less appealing.

One day while passing one of the other farm volunteers in Corsica, walking through the chicken yard of the strawberry farm, the woman and I greeted each other, and went in for the double cheek kiss. It went horribly wrong, getting fumbled as each of us accidentally went for the same side of the cheek and our lips met for a split second as our heads were turning. I was horrified. We both laughed awkwardly and said “whoops” and continued on our separate ways, never mentioning the fumbled kiss again.

This incident happened shortly after arriving in France, while I was still a novice of such a familial greeting with unfamiliar people. Post the fumbled chicken yard greeting, I became more conscientious of going in for the kiss, not wanting to repeat the incident when greeting the farmer down the road, or the owner of the bar in town.  I learned to hold back and wait for my opponent to assert their chosen cheek first. This was a helpful tactic when arriving
at a bar in the town nearby, as greeting people would involve kissing four or five strange men on the cheek–just because they were there and knew my host.

For some reason it seems sexy and fun in France to kiss everybody. It also seems rude not to. But at home, going to the local bar and kissing the four strange men standing out front does not feel French, but unseemly and unsanitary. I will happily settle for a slight chin raise in acknowledgment, or perhaps just ignoring them instead.

About Alethea Alden

Alethea AldenAlethea Alden is a Minnesota native who currently lives in London.

2 thoughts on “Perfecting the Customary Kiss in France

  1. Avatar
    April 8, 2013
    Reply

    Alethea, I can relate to you. I’m spending a semester in France, and like you, the bisous kisses took a bit of getting used to. Especially in get-togethers or kickbacks, every time someone new comes in, you introduce yourself with a kiss on each cheek –or four kisses, depending on the region you’re in!

    • alethea
      alethea
      April 19, 2013

      Nika, kisses are such a cultural thing that I never really thought about while living in the US. Now living in London I’m fascinated watching so many cultures here and how they greet each other. Hope you’re enjoying France (and the kissing)!

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