If only the dilemma stopped at how much. Once you’ve checked that out, you’re left with the dilemma of bumping your nose / slanting the glasses which side first? I discussed it with my friend Arnaud Barge, director of Arnaud’s Language Kitchen (he teaches French to English speakers in the least terrifying way possible). Do you start with the left cheek or the right? “Which tender cheek first? It is right cheek first in three quarters of France – the north, on a line from Biarritz to Nancy, but left cheek first in the south-eastern quarter.
Also, what do you call it? Kiss, kiss, make a schmoutz, boujouter? There are many regional variations. For example, Schmoutz is used in areas where, at the beginning of the 20th century, people spoke German dialects. Se boujouter is used in Normandy and comes from boujou, a dialect word for hello.
But where do all these kisses come from? With aqueducts and excellent roads, it was the Romans who introduced the codified kiss to France. The osculum was a kiss between people of equivalent social rank; basium, a kiss between close friends (la bise); and saevium, an erotic kiss. Everyone kissed for centuries, until in the 14th century the Black Death showed up to spoil everyone’s fun. Cap removal has become the medieval equivalent of the Covid-induced punch. Kissing slowly returned to polite and not-so-polite society during the 20th century, reaching its peak in the 1960s, as part of the phenomenon of youthism or the cult of youth. This is when men started kissing to greet each other socially, and it was no longer just the preserve of family members, girlfriends, and men with women.
No matter how you kiss, there’s one question that’s universally accepted: there should be no wetness, no clammy, no puffiness on your cheeks. The cheeks brush slightly when you make the “mwah” sound, because while it might sound a little pretentious, doing it without the “mwah” just feels weird. Honestly, that’s a comfort to me, having lived for a while in Russia where even recent acquaintances would happily slip in for a Brezhnev lip smacker.
Now that we’ve all taken off our masks, will the kisses return? In our local bar, many men have replaced the fist bump with the more traditional firm handshake. Many women greet each other with kisses. It’s normal.
But the return of the wind is not welcomed by everyone. A headline on Slate.fr reads: ‘Sorry, but the kiss is going to come back’ (sorry, but the kiss is coming back). A survey by Aladom, published in Marie Claire magazine, indicated that much of the population has no intention of going back to their pre-mask kissing ways: 78% say they will stop kissing. kiss strangers to introduce themselves, and 50% of a hundred will stop using it to greet family, friends and co-workers.
For some, it’s not just forced intimacy, but huge time sucks. When I meet and leave a large group of friends, the rounds of kisses can take forever, tempting me to slip away, that is, slip away unnoticed.
At work, it can be particularly frustrating. A segment on the France 24 news channel in 2019 explored the idea that la bise was a big waste of time. Six minutes a day to say hello and goodbye to your colleagues equals two and a half days a year. I think most would rather have time instead. And that’s before you even get to the gendered element of it all. In 2018, Aude Picard Wolff, mayor of Morette in Auvergne, wrote to her 73 municipal councilors to say: “From now on, I would prefer to shake hands, as men do.
There are signs that the extravagant bise is disappearing. Arnaud says: “The four bises disappears quickly and is more common in people over 50. As a general rule, the younger you are, the less kisses you give! When I ask him why, he replies: “I’m afraid that the American model of the ‘hello hug’ will take over.
Oh, the hug. In one of our first lessons, my French teacher, Diane, told me very clearly that the French don’t hug, as if I was about to go into a quick hug following our big success with the past tense. They don’t even have a proper word for it. Cuddle means hug, and while an embrace can mean an embrace, it can also mean to grab, seize, or strangle. So – no doubt to the chagrin of the French Academy – many, especially young people, use the hug. Which will give us all something else to worry about, codify and explore, as soon as we settle the wind.