Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Faire la Bise: The Pause to Kiss Cheeks

Of course, I knew about cheek kissing. I learned it 30 years ago when I was here as an au pair. Everyone kissed everyone -- male, female, married, single. The greeting hello was a cheek kiss, both cheeks, usually only once, but sometimes more.
Until we settled in Quillan, my cheek kisses were fairly limited because we didn't know many people. Instead, we would simply nod "bonjour" to the shop owners or the baker when we walked in.
Even though most of our friends here are British or American, we have all adopted the cheek kisses.
Going in for the cheek kissing while someone is sitting can be awkward. 
At a party one evening, as some friends prepared to leave, they wandered to each person and exchanged kisses goodbye.
"It's like New Year's Eve or something," the English woman who was making the goodbye rounds said.
It might be unusual to those of us who haven't grown up exchanging more than a hello or goodbye as a greeting, but it's kind of nice to take those few moments to acknowledge the other person.
Photo from Smosh.com: http://www.smosh.com/articles/13-kinds-kisses-and-kinds-people-giving-them
I wrote a month ago or so that we had moved up to the status of shaking hands with the bartender at a local bar. That greeting, which has now evolved to cheek kisses for me, is not something to be skipped.
When we enter, even if there is only one booth open and we would like to make a beeline to it before someone else gets it, we must first pause at the bar and greet the bartender. Kisses and handshakes finished, we are now free to move on to find seating.
At a restaurant recently, I saw a few young men, in their early 20s like my own sons. They exchanged kisses when their friends arrived. Cheek kisses aren't seen as effeminate; they're simply a greeting, an exchange of affection. I try to picture my own sons kissing their friends. Hugs probably only occur when they're drunk or someone has had a true hardship. Even shaking hands is rather rare among young men in the U.S. I noticed that when teaching college. The foreign students frequently shook hands as a greeting while American young men were more likely to simply say hello and nod their heads.
Walking into town one day last week, I heard some friends approaching from behind on their bicycles. They halted their bikes, and we exchanged kisses before discussing plans for the weekend.
It was a pause, an acknowledgment, a greeting that the other person is important to us.
Not quite a cheek kiss, more of a hair nuzzle. 
As Americans, we will sometimes skimp on the kisses, especially for goodbyes, maybe kissing our fingers and throwing air kisses toward the people down the table rather than taking the time to fait la bise, our sunglasses clinking against each other.
When we showed up for lunch today, five of us women, we exchanged kisses. But another table of acquaintances next to us were celebrating a birthday so we exchanged kisses with them too. A new couple that I didn't know arrived at the next door table so we kissed them too.
The kisses may seem intrusive, but they are a pause in what is frequently a busy life, a way of reminding ourselves of the importance of every person we run into. 


Jennie Thompson-O'Mara said...

Beautifully said

sillygirl said...

After experiencing this in Europe my husband and I do the single-each-cheek kisses for goodbyes - I like it. I think things would be friendlier in the U.S. if we all did that.

Just Me said...

I think I see your point. Being a hugger I could see the cheek kissing if that means 'two cheeks meet' , no actual kissing. Sorry to be so ignorant on the topic. My exception would be large gatherings and saying good bye. I much prefer the Irish goodbye, just disappearing. Ha!

Lee I said...

I hang out mostly in the South of France (when I'm there). Three kisses are usual. Sometimes I forget which side to start on. Even four sometimes. It's often is two cheeks meeting, with an airborne smack noise.

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