When I first came to France in 1999 as a kid one of the organized activities for us was to spend a night with a French family to get the full experience of life in France. Well having been only 11 at the time and in that full week that I had been there hadn’t really met too many French people (at least not in a friendly atmosphere) I had failed to remember how the French properly greet everyone.
It seemed that the family I was staying with had invited over all of their relatives inorder to gawk at the American. As an uncle or someone leaned down and pressed his cheek against mine I reacted ,astonished, by turning and laying a good ol’ kiss on his cheek. This action was met by eccentric laughter of the whole family at my expense. I then remembered all too late that in France people kiss or “faite la bisse” to say hello. After this I could not possibly forget the custom when I returned.
There is no historical reason as to why the French insite on this tradition. It is not particularly hygienic or a testimony to any one person but simply something that has always been. Men do it to eachother(something my American friends tend to find amusing yet surprising saying that guys back home would never go for that) but people don’t just go around kissing everyone on the street there is somewhat of a protocol to follow.
When you first meet someone to lightly kiss them once on each cheek is the popular way to say hello (
going left then right Left to right is the norm in paris but lately i’ve been stuck almost locking lips with a stranger so I guess just wait and see.) . This is not so much of a kiss as it is touching your cheek to theirs, making a kiss sound and saying your name then “enchanté” if it the first time you’ve met. Sometimes you will meet some old geezer who will make an effort to smear his lips all over your cheeks. Yuck. Gross. This is not ok. I only wonder what happens when these fellows meet someone with the same disgusting habit. Normally two light fake kisses are enough but some people seem to be more french than others and want to show it.
My friend said to me one night ” i’m already uncomfortable with this whole kissing thing but now I find out that in the country they kiss twice as much!”
According to where people are from the number of kisses may vary. In Paris it is two but in Marseilles for example it is four times and some places it is an excessive five and even some regions it is a profane six! Be prepared to follow and try not to look dumbfounded.
People kiss in the work place. Yes if you work in a cafe or an office the majority of your morning will be spent kissing and saying good morning to everyone. However where I work one of my managers shakes my hand whereas everyone else kisses me; not because it is a professional distance but because when we first met this is how I greeted him.
The way you first greet someone upon meeting them is the way that you will greet them all of the following times after so if upon meeting someone you want to be sure to keep your distance from hold out your hand. Men must always wait for a girl to lean in and give a kiss otherwise it is considered an approach. Also when someone is significantly older than you you are: wait for them to approach you. Whether an elderly person approaches you for kisses or not depends on where they are from and how they have lived.
BAWARE ON NEW YEARS EVE!!!!
I have never actually hidden from people before in my life but at the strike of 12 new years eve I was cowering in the kitchen out of the multitude of of pursed lips coming my way. The French do not pop confetti crackers or sing Auld Lang Syne what they do is give everyone a good dose of kisses to last them all year. Want to kiss a thousand strangers in one night? Spend new years on Champ Élysée.