La Bise


Kissing Instead of Hugging

A month back I made the mistake of hugging one of my European friends goodbye. For a second they stood there, but then hugged me back. They later explained they thought I was having an emotional breakdown, because that's usually the only time people hug. Nope just saying goodbye like the American that I am. Whoops! And the reason why it was so awkward was because here, in France and in many other European countries, people greet each other with "la bise" or a kiss on each cheek. Because that's not awkward at all!

La bise is the most common way to greet people. Usually you give the person a kiss on each cheek, but some people go for four, which makes it really awkward when you stop and they keep going. But you start to learn which relatives do four and plan ahead. People give the bise to their relatives and also their friends. Men are not always required to give la bise to other men, although some of them do. But anytime a man greets a woman or a woman greets a woman, there is kissing of the cheeks involved. But you can also be expected to give la base to people who your friends or family are being introduced to you, which makes for a great introduction of "let me invade your personal space before I even know your name." But it's the polite thing to do, and for French people, not the least bit weird. My personal favorite is meeting older people with drippy noses because old people tend to actually make contact with their lips to your cheek while younger people just do air kisses. But like I said before, it's not weird for french people. And I honestly don't mind doing la bise with friends and family in France. It's become so second nature that when my dad visited in September I did la bise to say goodnight and took me a second to realize that I usually just give him a hug.

Apparently, hugging in France and many European countries, is seen as an invasion of space and a little too personal. But yet giving kisses on the cheek is not seen as personal. It's just the polite way to say hi. And while I was raised with this and am kinda used to it, I still think its weird. Especially when it's people that I barely know. I think that someone putting their lips on my face is way more personal than wrapping your arms around someone's shoulders. But maybe that's my American talking. But it's the polite thing to do, and when with family and friends, it feels completely natural and not weird, until it's someone new.

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