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The ‘bise’-arre way the French like to say hello.

I knew well before I arrived in France that there was one thing I would seriously struggle with when living in the country: les bises. Les bises are the well known art of greeting each other with a kiss on the cheek. And as pretty much any of my friends can tell you: I do not like human contact. My dislike of hugs is in fact a running joke in various friendship groups; it’s one of the first things people learn about me. So understandably the thought of cheek kissing every time I meet up with someone was a little daunting.

I did of course adopt les bises, it would have been rude not to, but it was never quite something I could get the hang of in France. There were almost too many rules to follow and I very much learnt these as I went along. It turns out leaving a small social gathering without repeating les bises with everyone on your way out is pretty rude and that handshake that I unintentionally go for is unnecessary and plain awkward when you ultimately have to follow it up with les bises. All in all, France was quite a learning curve in terms of adopting local “body language” and a good job too considering what awaited me in Spain.

In Spain pretty much all rules seemed to go out the window. One thing that did remain was that handshakes are still not on the cards (except with the dutch who were more than happy to avoid face-on-face contact). I soon realised that when in doubt les bises are pretty much the go to greeting and eventually grew to tolerate them. They are easier than hugs and acceptable in most social situations. In fact I think I can go as far to say that I am well and truly converted, especially seeing as I even did them with my mum when I first got back to the UK. I think she probably thought I was trying to be cosmopolitan when really the habit had just stuck.

Lucy, Tours & Salamanca

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