The art of the French kiss

Kiss by Shutterstock.

There’s a great blog post up today about something I was just talking with some French friends about on Sunday.  How do you know when (and how) to kiss a French person hello?

It’s a problem many a foreign visitor has had in France.  You arrive at a brunch, as I did on Sunday, and suddenly the women are allow jumping up and approaching you, and you have no idea if you’re supposed to kiss them or what.  Even worse, what do you do with the guys?

(I remember one of my two Greek grandmothers, who immigrated from the old country, every time we’d see her, she point to her cheek, meaning, “where’s my kiss?”  Then we kids would kiss her, pull back, then she’d point to the other cheek.)

In the states, we just wave at the entire crew and say “hey.”  The French find that abominable.  They even asked me at the brunch, “is it true you just wave at everyone and say ‘hello’?”  Uh, yeah.

Well, the blog post walks you through the rules, or lack thereof, in French however, and there’s a cute video, also in French – so here’s a quick synopsis of the rules they lay out.  Okay, first here’s the video, but it is in French:

In order to figure out the kissing thing, you need to consider four questions:


1. Quand (when)
When, in what situations, do you kiss someone else on the cheek? Answer: You would kiss your friends, for example, on seeing them after a long vacation, you also might sometimes kiss hello when arriving at at work, and you always kiss hello when you arrive at friends’ houses.

2. Qui (who)
Who do you kiss? A lot depends on the familial, friend, or work relationship you have with the kisee, but also their status, meaning, WHO are they.  For example, you don’t kiss your boss hello. But, your boss can approach you for a kiss, then it’s okay for you to kiss back.  On the other hand, colleagues at work kiss hello a lot.  For men kissing men hello, however, it depends.  Sometimes men kiss each other when they’re friends or members of the same family – but not always.  Young people kiss each other hello a lot, and guys are doing it a lot more now with other guys.

3. Comment (how)
How do you kiss them?  Meaning, air kiss, cheek to cheek but no lip to cheek, or lip kisses cheek?  The story doesn’t answer any of this, but I can tell you after years of kissing people’s cheeks that the French, at least in Paris, do cheek to cheek air kisses (I only learned recently) – who knew?

As for intensity and duration depends of the kiss, it depends on the situation.  It really just depends on how it feels at the time.  If you don’t know the person well, show a little reticence.


4. Combien (how many)
How many kisses do you give?  In Paris it’s 2, i.e., one on each cheek.  In the city of Montpelier, it’s 3.  Orleans, 4.  Lyon, 3. Bordeaux, 4. And so on.  So you’re pretty much out of luck on that one.

I’d also add “which cheek do you land the first kiss on”?  I’m actually not sure as it’s different in different countries – I think the Greeks start with one cheek and the French with the other, because it always screws me up.  Maybe Americans are the ones who use the other cheek, I’m really not sure.

Oh, and to make things worse, I’ve had numerous French women admit that when they meet Americans, sometimes they hold back from a kiss because they know that Americans don’t like to kiss hello.  I informed them that it’s not that we don’t like it (though a French guy kissing a straight American guy on the cheek would be funny as hell to watch), it’s just that we don’t understand when to do it and when not to, as in the states it could be a tad presumptuous.  And it’s even worse when the French hold back, thinking we’re uncomfortable, because then we get mixed signals about whether we’re supposed to kiss.

Putain, c’est difficile!


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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