An expat explains the French rules of how to greet people with a kiss on both cheeks – and the best ways to cope with it as a non-touchy person.
Anyone who has ever lived in France, or indeed popped over for the day, will be familiar with the biz culture – that is giving bisous (a kiss on each cheek) to pretty much any random person you come across. I have to confess that I actually find it a little touching when I see a group of young guys greeting each other in this manner. Only in France/Italy/Spain/anywhere other than England can you see men expressing affection for each other – although my partner’s mum apparently disagrees. When she came over for a visit and witnessed her only son fairing the biz with a fella, she demanded to know why he was kissing other men. Explain that one to an Irish mammy.
But yes, as much as I don’t object to other people doing it, what with me being English and therefore generally afraid of displays of affection, I have struggled somewhat to adapt to the kissy kissiness of it all. On top of that, I come from a highly untouchy-feely family – the last time I went through a serious break up and was prostrate on my bed in floods of tears, my Dad hovered awkwardly in the doorway for a few minutes, reached over and patted me on the shoulder, mumbled some platitude or other, then made a speedy exit.
So if you are ever in France and have similar feelings on the subject, here are a few of the danger areas/issues I have encountered and some words of advice on how to avoid them.
Being expected to biz 50 people every time you enter or leave a room
One of my main issues with fairing the biz is actually completely unrelated to the whole awkwardness factor – it’s just so damned time-consuming. My place of work has a fairly sizeable team of staff, so I’m only exaggerating very slightly when I say that it is necessary to arrive half an hour early just to get in all the bizzing and ‘Ça va?’ ‘Ça va’ malarky. Worse still is if you leave again five minutes later, as technically you should then go round and do it all over again to say goodbye.
Solution? There isn’t really one for the arrival situation, but if I’m leaving and can’t wait to get the hell out of there, I tend to bellow, “Ciao tout le monde!” at the room in general and hotfoot it out the door. Some may consider this to be rude, but then again, I am English so they kind of expect that of me anyway.
Being expected to biz random/stinky old men
The random/stinky old man issue is another of my more serious grievances with fairing the biz – in what universe should a young(ish) girl be expected to voluntarily kiss a lecherous old man, just because he happens to have walked into the same room? In general I manage to avoid this by saying, “Bonjour“, lowering my eyes and rapidly scuttling away. Again, very probably rude, but my ungroped bottom is always grateful for my crass English ways.
Customers: To biz or not to biz?
This category overlaps slightly with the previous one, as many of our customers at my work also happen to be random/stinky old men. As stated above, I manage to avoid the biz generally in this situation, but there are certain regulars who will chase me around the restaurant until I give in. In this unfortunate situation, the best advice I can give is to hold your breath and get it over with as quickly as possible.
Of course, we do also have female customers. A lot of the younger ones have become more like friends than customers after six months of seeing them every night (we have a very loyal/alcoholic clientele), so I have no problem with bizzing them. I do find it slightly more awkward with the older women, but to be fair they are generally less insistent on it than the fellas anyway. Quelle surprise.
Lippage: To make contact or not to make contact?
As I expect many of you will also be, I am more familiar with the slightly less intimate/considerably more pretentious version of bizzing that has cropped up around the UK and particularly in London – air kissing (“Daaaahhhhhhrling!”). With certain individuals en France you can get away with simply ducking heads at each other/touching cheeks, rather than making contact between their face and your actual lips, although this does on occasion cause as much offence as not doing it at all and means you have to go through the trauma all over again, this time with unmistakable lippage.
There is another issue which I came across for the first time this weekend when fairing the biz with my boss – there was no lip contact, but I managed to make some pretty loud “mwah” noises in his ear. My boss is hot. It was embarrassing. But not as embarrassing as the time I accidentally kissed him on the neck. Hell, a girl’s gotta get her kicks somehow. Moving on.
Bizzing someone you fancy and blushing furiously
There is really no avoiding this, but then why would you want to avoid kissing someone you fancy? Pile on the blusher beforehand and no one will be any the wiser. Unless you’re a man, in which case I can’t help you.
Going the wrong way and accidentally almost snogging someone
I did this at the weekend with a colleague. He is not attractive. He asked me for another and I ran away, screaming silently. Luckily, if it is someone you biz on a regular basis you will soon learn which cheek they lead with and this should no longer be an issue, but sadly there doesn’t seem to be any agreement on which way we go first. Either that or some purposefully go the other way in an effort to get their tongue in your mouth.
Which leads me neatly to one of the only upsides I have found about fairing the biz – if it is someone you fancy and biz on a regular basis, you can always purposefully go the other way and accidentally-on-purpose almost snog them. As I said – a girl’s gotta get her kicks. Biz!