A kiss. Or two.
I’ve seen it all now.
Those of you who live in France will be familiar with les bisous – on fait les bises – the kisses that French people give each other.
These bewilder quite a lot of foreigners on account of the fact there are two kisses and four kisses and sometimes three kisses. In itself it’s quite a complex thing knowing who to kiss, how many times to kiss and which way to go first.
It’s a complex science, even for dedicated people-watchers such as myself.
Firstly, sometimes you can kiss strangers, if you’re being introduced. It says not to, but people do. The rule is don’t, but then people do.
Secondly, women who know each other should always kiss each other, unless they’re of a certain age or standing in the community. So I don’t kiss Madame Jug (that’s her name in English) but I do kiss Mrs Godson (that’s her name in English) because Madame Jug is always going to be of a certain age and we have that kind of relationship. She gives me confit du canard. I give her confiture du coings, but we’re never, ever going to be at a stage where we’d give kisses. I liken it to calling certain people by their polite names, like Mrs So-and-So. She’s never, ever going to be Simone. She’s always going to be Madame Jug. Like, I’m never, ever going to call the vicar’s wife by her first name, not even if she tells me to, and I’m not going to kiss her. Mrs Godson, however, the local librarian, is also of that age, but she treats me more of an equal because she knows I’m a teacher. Or maybe she wants to feel young. Or maybe she thinks she is young. I don’t know. Anyway. I kiss her. But then again, I call her Frédérique.
And you should kiss other people’s children. You’ll see them straining at the bit, their head tilted. They almost can’t cope if you don’t kiss them, even if you don’t know them. For example, the little boy who came with his dad to pick up Steve’s metal detector. He wanted a kiss. It almost hurt that he had to wait for one.
But you can’t kiss them if you’re teaching them. They don’t expect a kiss then. That’s entirely different. And I never kiss a teacher if they’re in teacher-mode. Shake their hands.
You should kiss all the mothers and fathers at the school gates if you’re a parent. And you should stop your conversations to do so. You then should kiss all their children. This is why it takes 20 minutes to pick up the kids. If you don’t want to kiss them, pick your child up late.
But kissing has no limits for friends.
Say, for instance, I walk into the supermarket and my friend Véronique is on the till. I’m expected to stop her in her work, kiss her, say hello and then go and do my shopping. If you’re French, you expect to have your shopping stopped whilst ladies converse. If you’re a bemused tourist, you are probably a bit miffed that you’ve been standing waiting for two minutes whilst two women act as if you aren’t even there.
Also, say for instance I’m walking along a road and I see my friend Laure. I must go into the middle of next zebra crossing to kiss her. If I hold up traffic to do so, then that’s fine. Like the kissing in the supermarket, it’s just done.
Also, if I work in an office, I should kiss all the people who are in the office when I go in. If it takes me twenty minutes to do the rounds, so be it. I calculate that French people could go home at 2:30 if they only took an hour for lunch and didn’t kiss everyone first thing in the morning.
Today, I learned a new form of kissing. The zumba class kiss. If I come in late to an aerobics class, no matter if I come in when the class is in full pelt-and-shimmy, I must kiss everyone I know. They must stop, hot and sweaty as they are, and kiss me. If I know twenty people, then I must kiss them.
I just must.
I like to kiss people. It’s kind of nice. It’s very French and it’s usually a pleasant experience. However, the universe stops when people kiss a greeting, and sometimes I think that if a soldier on the front line saw another soldier he knew, he’d have to stop and kiss, and the whole war would have to stop too. And yes, men kiss. Men kiss each other. Men kiss other people’s wives and men kiss children. They shake hands a lot too.
I’d say nothing determines your relationship like les bisous.