Ha! Thought that title would get your attention.
I’m settling in quietly here in the Languedoc; treading softly as I find my way around French life and customs – one of which I confess perplexes me a little. The French kiss… not the tongue tickling the tonsils kind and not the fatuous air kiss beloved by many in the UK. No I’m talking about the normal greeting between friends – a gentle buss on each cheek often with the added bonus of a brief waft of perfume or spicy after-shave.
Nothing at all wrong with any of that except that I keep getting it wrong. The question is which cheek to aim for first? My first attempts led to mutual embarrassment when my builder’s eldest Daughter decided to admit me into her circle of eleven year old friends. We bobbed around each other in approximately the right area, rubbing noses, banging foreheads whilst her mates wet themselves laughing. Finally in frustration she grabbed my shoulders, bade me standstill in stern tones and delivered the required kisses. Meekly I asked her how she knew which cheek to kiss first and received my answer in the form of a hugely expressive Gallic shrug before she ran off. I was only grateful my first encounter wasn’t her little friend who wears specs like me. That would have ended up as the clash of the titaniums.
Then again the other problem is one of personal space. How close does one have to/need to get to administer the ritual greeting? Most nationalities have a concept of personal space and I have no invasion plans (at least not yet). So I’ve been people watching to see if there is any norm. But there again I’ve been betwattled for observations taken so far show wide differences in approach from the crotch-rubbing clinch to the elegant bend forward leaving a discreet and respectful space between bodies. My own attempts have led to an unusual amount of neck-stretching and weaving, rather like a demented goose.
So I am left with the question – is this something that the French learn how to do once they’re out of the cradle? Perhaps it’s part of the primary school curriculum with exams at the end of the year and prizes for the best kisser. Actually that sounds like much more fun than the “posture stripes” awarded by my school to those girls with ramrod straight backs. However, the best advice I’ve had so far is to stand still, pucker up and let the other person do the kissing. Story of my life.