Le Dernier Mot: Excuse Me, May I Kiss You?

Le Dernier Mot: Excuse Me, May I Kiss You?

To bise, or not to bise? That is the question on Kristin’s (and many others’) lips this month…

Two Sundays ago, my plans to sneak out of church were foiled when I ran smack into another member in the hallway. The young father, who had stepped out of the service to calm his toddler, automatically stood to say goodbye in French: that is, he reached to kiss me on each cheek.

I confess, no matter how much experience I have with la bise, I’m still never quite sure who and when to kiss: acquaintances from church? Do we kiss them (apparently, yes)? Well then, what about the preacher? (I found out the answer the next week, when our French pastor kissed me on both cheeks).

Beyond l’église and its members, who are the other kissable people in our neighbourhood? What about our postal worker? Last January, at the time of les étrennes (the tradition of giving gifts to those who make our lives easier), our factrice got a most unexpected peck on her helmet. It left a bright pink kiss mark front and centre. But who could blame my Mom for planting it there? A recent immigrant to France, Mom doesn’t yet know the rules (not that rules would stop her from expressing her gratitude toward Postwoman Marie, with whom she shares a rare complicité).

After the folks at church and the municipal workers, what about la coiffeuse? Three years as a faithful client and I still don’t know whether to kiss my hairdresser (or to tutoyer or vousvoyer, for that matter). So I follow her erratic example: just because she kissed me at New Year, it didn’t mean we would faire la bise ever again. Go figure!

Le dernier mot

Kristin’s dog, Smokey, offering free kisses. If only giving out les bises were that simple!
Photo: Kristin Espinasse

Kiss chase

That leaves us with our neighbours. I seem to remember kissing all of them at last summer’s Fête des Voisins. But after that community initiative, none of us has seen each other since, so I will have to keep you posted!

Signing off now I’m wondering about you, Cher Lecteur. Would it be ok to kiss vous? After all, you have listened like a close friend and I am most grateful. Donc, je vous fais la bise.

French vocabulary

LA BISE = kiss
L’ÉGLISE (F) = church
LES ÉTRENNES = New Year’s gift, tip
LA FACTRICE = postwoman
LA COIFFEUSE = hairdresser
TUTOYER/VOUSVOYER = to address someone informally or formally
LA FÊTE DES VOISINS = neighbourhood party
FAIRE LA BISE = to kiss on the cheek as a form of greeting
JE VOUS FAIS LA BISE = I’m going to kiss you

* UPDATE Within weeks of writing this essay, the question of who and when to kiss became irrelevant when the coronavirus swept into France. Until the epidemic is over, we are following the government’s suggestion and keeping our lips to ourselves. Bon courage and kisses to you all from afar!

From France Today magazine

Read more of Kristin’s popular columns here:

Le Dernier Mot: Exit Strategy
Le Dernier Mot: Wait a Minute Mr Postman
Le Dernier Mot: Crowning Glory
Le Dernier Mot: Affair of the Heart
Le Dernier Mot: Inside Job
Le Dernier Mot: Naked Ambition
Le Dernier Mot: That Which We Call a Rose…
Le Dernier Mot: France Isn’t All That Bad!
Le Dernier Mot: A Passage to Corsica
Le Dernier Mot: Desperately Seeking… Dessert
Le Dernier Mot: Sirène Again!
Le Dernier Mot: Milking the Breakfast Bar
Le Dernier Mot: Saperlipopette
Le Dernier Mot: Uninvited Guêpes
Le Dernier Mot: An Exception to Every Rule
Le Dernier Mot: Odd Woman Out

Postwoman Marie. Photo: Kristin Espinasse

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The American-born author and photographer lives with her French husband, Jean-Marc, and their two children on a vineyard and olive farm near Bandol in Provence. She's the author of "Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France" and runs the French Word-a-Day blog and newsletter.

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  • Carol Sonnenberg
    2020-08-12 19:38:24
    Carol Sonnenberg
    J'adore tout ce que vous écrivez!!!! Merci mille fois!!! Et.. Je me demandais.."qu'est-ce qui se passe avec les bises en France maintenant?!? Lol


    • Kristin Espinasse
      2020-08-13 16:18:20
      Kristin Espinasse
      Merci beaucoup, Carol! J'apprécie votre réaction. A propos ”qu’est-ce qui se passe avec les bises en France maintenant?!?" ...c'est le sujet que je traite actuellement, et que vous pouvez lire ici, prochainement. Amicalement, Kristin