Saturday, 6 June 2015

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Cheek Kissing – Tips for Expat Brits

It is a measure of the drastic changes in English attitudes towards kissing in general, and cheek kissing in particular that what is now more and more accepted as a standard form of greeting would have raised eyebrows – even shocked (especially between males) – three or four decades ago when it was mainly confined to theatrical types whose off-stage lives were marked by a general tendency to overdo. On the French side of the Channel, however, ‘faire la bise’ has long since been a common way of showing others you are friendlily inclined. Who, then in France kisses on the cheek, when and how do they do it?

A cheek kiss is usually bestowed by women on women, and men on women. Nevertheless, even though in the past exclusively male cheek kissing took place only between close relatives, i.e. brothers, fathers and sons (and perhaps occasionally very close male friends), today there is an increasing trend among young Frenchmen to replace the handshake by ‘la bise’ when greeting both male and female friends of a similar age.

In convivial circumstances, however, men can kiss the cheeks of women who are more acquaintances than friends. This is especially the case when you are members of the same sporting club or association. In France, however, there can be a considerable gap between private and public behaviour, so the Brit abroad mustn’t be surprised if the woman who readily offers him her cheek at the golf club simply wishes him ‘Bonjour’ in the High Street.

Adults normally kiss small children on the cheek. Shaking hands would be inappropriately formal.

As far as the kissing itself is concerned, the first question we might ask is which cheek do you begin with? Well, basically, that’s for participants to decide. Personally, without really knowing why (perhaps it’s because I’m right-handed), I usually go for her left one first, and when she realizes this, the lady usually co-operates by holding it out. But, as with shaking hands, you can leave it to her to take the initiative. And what about the number of times? Well, this is, in fact, a regional thing. Where I live, thank goodness, I’ve never been witness to more than one on each. But, depending on where you are, it can be once on one, once on the other, and then back for another on the first. And in some regions, apparently, it can be as many as two on each.

It’s important to note that, in reality, the word ‘kiss’ is frequently a misnomer. For rather than planting your lips on the cheeks of the other, the technique usually consists in briefly rubbing your chops together, and at the same time making a kissing movement with your lips. The result is that most lip contact is with the surrounding air – though I do have a copain who actually believes in firmly planting a sensual kiss on the cheeks of a woman he really likes. Spectacle-wearers should be careful as potentially nasty collisions can occur and, similarly, if your wearing a cap with a long nib it’s far more prudent to take it off.

That romantic gesture of ‘old school’ French gallantry which consists in the male bringing his lips into light, respectful contact with the back of a lady’s outstretched hand is now less common in higher social and diplomatic circles – though a former Président de la République (a reputed woman chaser) frequently used it when welcoming foreign lady Heads of State. Even though the hand kiss is, apparently, still quite common in Central and Eastern Europe, the French – in their everyday life, at least – usually resort to it as a source of affectionate amusement.

Article by permission of Barry Whittingham see &

2 books :
François Théodore Thistlethwaite's FRENGLISH THOUGHTS Francophiles, Frenglish-Franglais, Serious Humour about the French and English

The first book in the trilogy CALL OF FRANCE, Barfield School is a dramatized portrayal of some of the experiences which led the author to become a longstanding expat in a country he’s always felt a deep attraction for.
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