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How to faire la bise

March 28, 2011

Sadly, while this post is about kissing in Paris, it's not about this kind of kissing in Paris

It’s 5:30am and I’m about to head off on a one-day work trip to Paris (one of those things which, on paper, sounds incredibly glamorous but when you’re traipsing through the dark, cold streets of Geneva, staring down 10 hours of meetings with no opportunities for croissant-eating and gallery-visiting in sight, it seems actually kind of painful) and I’m stressing about cheek-kissing.

The custom of greeting someone with multiple cheek-kisses (to faire la bise in French) is a veritable minefield in Europe because there are far too many rules that apply, about which clarity is extremely elusive. More than once I’ve been in the embarrassing situation of almost entering into a full-on make out with someone because I went in for one too many kisses. This is really awkward when it’s with a friend or acquaintance, but possibly career-ending when it’s in a professional situation. So, as an Australian living in Geneva attending a meeting in Paris, how many times should I kiss? In Switzerland it’s three, but in Paris it’s two, but the meeting that I’ll be attending will be populated by people I know from Geneva, so do we stay true to our origins or do we comply with Parisian rules? At what point does kissing become appropriate/necessary in a professional setting? From observing others it seems that the first time you meet someone a handshake is all that’s required but follow-up meetings necessitate the kiss. Should I make the first move, or should I wait and see that they do? And if I make the first move, do I go left or right? Do I actually touch their cheek with my lips (seem somewhat unhygienic when I don’t know when the last time they washed their face was) or just do the air kiss (seems a little ingenuine) in which case do I make a kissing sound (makes me feel like an idiot) and can I talk while I’m doing it (sounds stupid to keep stopping to make kissing noises – “it’s so mwah nice to mwah see you mwah again”!).

This conundrum had me tossing and turning last night. I’m genuinely stressed about the many kissing face-offs that I’m going to encounter today. So much so that I’m thinking of writing to the European Union to request they issue some sort of Europe-wide standardisation directive about the number and form of kisses applicable to all circumstances. Alternatively, I’m proposing that we adopt a kind of scissor-paper-rocks pre-kissing routine whereby the two prospective kissers approach each other, bob their fists up and down three times and then throw a number – 1, 2 or 3 – and whoever throws the lowest number is the winner and the cheek-kissing must conform to their winning number.

In the meantime, my strategy is to stand perfectly still and not move my head and let the other person do the kissing. I may come off cold and a little stand-offish but at least I won’t be accused of pulling the moves on someone I hardly know!


4 Comments leave one →
  1. lynn permalink
    April 1, 2011 1:18 pm

    btw over here (Brussels) it is one kiss …. this has lead to many embarrassing situations as I am a 3-cheeks – kisser. and its always worse if you are the one giving more kisses… be prepared for your weekend stint!

    • April 1, 2011 1:51 pm

      Whhaaat? Did Belgium not get the memo about the Eurozone being solely multi-kiss!? That’s weird.

  2. auntie permalink
    April 3, 2011 11:32 am

    how the heck are you? Did you forget the old punch in the arm greeting here in Oz. I’m sure it could be a big hit (pardon the pun) in the cultured Europe. You never know , it could catch

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